By Aja Frost for BioSpace.com
We’ve all been there: standing awkwardly in some huge conference hall, clutching a handful of stale crackers and moist cheese cubes, looking around desperately for someone to engage in conversation—or worse, trying to escape a conversation that’s going nowhere.
Networking is stressful, draining, and hard to do well. But to succeed in the biotech or pharmaceutical industries, it’s also important, helping you stay relevant, forge connections, and find new opportunities. Here are the four phrases that’ll transform your unpleasant networking experiences into successful (even fun!) ones.
1. If you weren’t at this [conference, event, meeting, etc.], what would you be doing?
This question is great for two reasons. First, it’s a little unexpected—so whomever you asked will remember you. Second, you’ll learn something personal or interesting about the person. This tidbit is perfect for using in your follow-up.
For example, maybe the guy you’re talking to thinks for a second and then says, “Reading on the couch!” If you’re into reading, great. If not, say, “What’s the last great book you read? What genres do you like?” Then, when you request to connect with him on LinkedIn, you can give him a book recommendation or mention you’re going to try one of his favorites.
2. What projects are you working on?
Everyone in sight with a nametag is going to ask, “What do you do?” As a result, people develop very practiced, unenthusiastic answers: “Well, I’m a scientist working at X company, specializing in Y…” By asking professionals about their projects, you’ll get the same key info—where they’re employed, their job description, etc.—in an interesting new way.
Once they’ve started telling you what they’re working on, show you’re interested by asking more questions. For example, “What’s your objective?” or “What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome?” or “How many people on your team?”
3. “I [verb]” not “I [noun].”
Speaking of answering “What do you do?”, it’s time to rethink your approach. Rather than answering with your job title, answer with your job description.
For example, instead of saying, “I’m a chemist,” say, “I help discover and develop new drugs.” The key is to make your statement broad enough that it makes people curious. The natural reaction is to ask, “Well, how you discover and develop new drugs?”
Remember to adjust your answers depending on whom you’re speaking to. Someone who’s not in your field of study will be put off by jargon.
4. I’ve loved talking to you. Here’s my business card; let’s stay in touch!
There’s no reason to stay in an unproductive conversation. If you’re ready to move on, simply say you’ve really enjoyed the conversation and you’d love to stay in contact. Then hand the professional your business card or say you’ll find him or her on LinkedIn—and walk away!
This exit strategy is both gracious and effective, allowing you to find someone different to talk to without hurting any feelings.