It’s frustrating to walk out of a job interview or even happy hour with new co-workers and feel like you missed out on the chance to make a genuine connection. Not only because that’s human nature, but also because these people are important (for different reasons) to your future success.
While everyone feels this way sometimes, some of us end up leaving situations like this more often than not. If you’re nodding your head yes to that sentence, I have strategies that’ll help you walk out of all your professional interactions on top.
1. When You Interview for a Job
It’s a big job searching buzzkill: You’re excited for an interview, you meet the hiring manager, and within minutes, you realize that things aren’t going as smoothly as you planned. Not only is your interviewer stone-faced when you make your never-fail crowd-pleasing jokes, but she doesn’t even seem like she’s listening.
The problem? You really, really want this job.
How to Fix It
Whether it’s because your interviewer is shy, distracted, or just a jerk—don’t give up on the job just because he or she doesn’t seem to be on your wavelength.
Katie Douthwaite Wolf has several great ideas for how to connect with your interviewer, but one of my favorites is imitating the person who’s interviewing you. What’s her body language like? How does he explain things? You can literally mimic what that person does (without being creepy). While you can’t control the other person’s reactions, you can change up your strategy.
Also, try not to panic—some interviewers actively try not to show any emotion or personality during the interview so they don’t give you clues one way or another. Instead, focus on making sure you convey these four things by the end of your interview—and you’ll know you will have done everything you could to ace it.
2. When You Meet New Co-workers for the First Time
Meeting the people around your new office is exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. You’ll be spending hundreds (maybe thousands) of days of your life with these folks, so you really want them to like you.
But what happens when you walk into the break room and can’t talk fantasy football with your colleagues? What if your co-worker puts her headphones on as soon as you arrive?
How to Fix It
When you feel like you’re on the outs, the immediate reaction is to try and overcompensate—which is exactly what you don’t want to do. Instead of trying to fake Game of Thrones knowledge (note: it never works) or emailing the person next to you every five seconds with a new fun fact you learned from the internet, refrain.
Instead, start over by finding your common ground: work. People can talk about their work all day every day (especially with colleagues), so asking what someone is working on or bringing up an upcoming meeting can break the ice.
Also, remember that you definitely don’t need to be best buddies with every single person in the office. While it’s important to be friendly with the people you see every day, you by no means need to know everything about them.
3. When You Head to a Networking Event
Heading to networking events by yourself is already awkward, but having to talk to someone who obviously has no interest in chatting with you can be even worse. Should you try to find other common ground? Should you just run away? Should you slowly melt into the floor?
How to Fix It
Much like co-workers, you absolutely don’t need to become best friends with every person you meet at a networking event. If you’re talking to someone who just isn’t interested (or you can’t seem to find anything in common with whatsoever), it’s best to wrap up the conversation politely (“Well, it’s been so nice chatting—can I get your card?” usually works) and find someone who’s more interested in meeting you.
If the person you’re talking to is someone you really want to get to know for professional reasons, it’s usually easier to swap contact info and connect elsewhere (like email or Twitter, depending on the person’s preferences). Networking events can bring out the awkward in everyone, and this person might do better in a one-on-one setting—especially once he or she has gotten to do some internet stalking on you first.
4. When You’re at a One-on-One Coffee Meeting
One of my most cringe-worthy professional moments was going to a coffee meeting and spending more time silently (and awkwardly) nodding at one another than actually speaking. There was no chitchat or small talk, just silence.
How to Fix It
First and foremost, go into any coffee meeting way more prepared than I did for that one. Based on a few early networking fails, I wrote up a couple of tips I’ve learned to have a great meeting. Or at the very least, one where both people speak.
Long story short, these three questions always work to jump start the conversation.
- “So what has your schedule been looking like now in [role X]?”
- “Your job sounds so cool! What are you hoping to do in the future?”
- “How did you hear about [company Y]?”
They seem basic, but all three are easy and open-ended prompts that require more than a yes or no answer.
When you find yourself in a situation that’s going nowhere, keep calm, reevaluate, and don’t run and hide under the nearest table you can find. It’ll be okay. Promise.
Photo of handshake courtesy of Shutterstock.