If asked, the vast majority of human beings will say that they hate small talk. As a result, many of us dread networking events; “Two hours of small talk with professionals I don’t know? What am I supposed to talk about?”
Combine the usual social anxieties surrounding networking with the pressure of trying to secure an internship, and there’s no question that your nerves could get the better of you—unless you go in prepared.
First off, you’re not limited to “talking shop.” Recruiters and professionals are not accounting robots. They are regular people with lives and interests outside of work, just like you! You’re there to learn about the employer, so some “shop” questions are appropriate and expected, but you want to get to know the person you meet. Follow the “no politics or religion,” rule, but feel free to delve into other topics. In her 2016 essay, “The Benefits of a Little Small Talk,”* Jennifer Breheny Wallace suggests sports, family, and travel as safe, yet engaging talking points.
There will be the occasional awkward pause. That’s ok. Overcome awkward silences by walking into the event with a few personal anecdotes to kick-start conversation. Entrepreneur Jon Levy is quoted in Business Insider; “I always have a story of something I’ve been doing recently or a book that I’ve been reading.” Asking, “Did you see that big movie released last weekend?” is a great conversation reviver.
Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. If a professional throws out an acronym that you don’t know, politely asking, “I’m sorry, that’s not a term I’m familiar with, can you explain it?” does not make you look stupid. There are many terms used in the professional realm that we don’t learn as students. Don’t just give them a blank stare or a nod. Asking for further explanation of something shows both humility and curiosity (very desirable qualities for an intern to have).
Exit conversations gracefully. You’re at a networking event; you want to have as many conversations as possible. Don’t abruptly end conversations by asking for a business card and running away. That leaves a bad taste in the mouth of everyone involved. Business Insider suggests taking “an extra beat to make eye contact,” before leaving. Wallace cites author and small talk expert Debra Fine, for this tip: “use subtle verbal cues like ‘Before we take off,’ or ‘Since I only have a few minutes left,’” to ease your way out of conversations.
Small talk doesn’t have to be painful (or even shallow). In her essay, Wallace cites multiple published studies tying small talk with strangers to day-to-day happiness and well-being. By honing your conversation skills during the recruiting process, you aren’t just investing in your future as a professional. Conversational competency has the potential to improve social interactions across the board (and, maybe even your mood)!
Read the full articles below for even more tips!
“How to talk to anyone at a networking event,” Richard Feloni, Business Insider
“The Benefits of a Little Small Talk,” Jennifer Breheny Wallace, WSJ *