My golden rule of networking is to be ready. When you have great questions for the people you’re talking to, you have even better conversations. And you don’t waste your or others’ time with idle chatter where no one learns anything new.
That’s why, when it comes to attending events that feature speakers or panelists, I believe in preparing great questions. People who speak at these types of events are typically leaders in their field, and thus are the crème de la crème of networking contacts. And the best way to show that you’re worth connecting with is to look like you know what you’re looking for and what help you need from others to get it.
So, when there is a break for questions, seize the moment! But before you take the mic, heed the advice of the late great ESPN anchor Stuart Scott:
Ask one question. You don’t have to ask a long question. You don’t have to ask a question where you’re using so many words because you think that it shows that you know the subject matter. Ask a question that really warrants an answer.
Here are some questions that will show speakers your thoughtfulness, add knowledge for the whole group, and ultimately help you make a lasting impression.
Questions to Learn About Their Journeys
When people agree to join panels, they’re making it clear that they enjoy talking about themselves and what they know. Show that you’ve paid attention to what they’ve said and that you want more context about who they are. Don’t be shy about a little ego-stroking!
- When did you know you wanted this job?
- How did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
- What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?
- What research did you do to prepare for this role?
- What was your first “win” that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
- How do you avoid being complacent in your role?
- What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
- What did you do at work yesterday? (This is a spin on the “what is a typical day” question that will yield more specific, informative answers.)
Questions to Get Their Advice
This is probably why you’re attending this event in the first place, right? Try not to stand up and ask “What’s a guy/gal gotta do to get a job around here?” These questions will get you better results.
- How did you set yourself apart from others who wanted the same job?
- What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
- What advice would you give to your younger self at the start of your career?
- What impresses you the most when you are considering hiring someone?
- How does your team (or company) define success?
- What is the biggest challenge to achieving that success?
Note that all of these questions require more than a “yes or no” answer. That’s intentional. You want people to go a little deeper. This way, what they share will give you useful insight about their work and help you know more about what it takes to be successful at it.
When the event is over, feel free to approach the panelists, but do more than just ask for a business card. Tell them that you appreciated their answers, and share how their words will impact you. Then, when you reach out to connect, be sure to put the question that you asked in the subject line (e.g., “Follow-up from Adrian: I asked about your advice to your younger self”). These little steps will go a long way in helping you be remembered.