Networking Like a Pro: 3 Easy Questions to Help You Stand Out

Simple ways to make a lasting impression

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Networking is less about meeting new people than having them remember you after the fact. It's a conversation, sure, but it's a focused one with an underlying goal that goes beyond simple socialization.

In his book, "Networking Like a Pro," Brian Hilliard makes several pertinent points about networking and the conversations that go with it. First, during most conversations, people like to talk more about themselves than others. And generally speaking, people tend to talk more than they listen. If you can pepper your conversations at networking events with good follow-up questions, you can show that you're interested in that person and what they have to say. In return, you're more likely to be remembered.

The best follow-up questions draw organically from the conversation itself, but you can plan ahead with some basic questions in mind. Here are a few examples of questions that are likely to inspire thoughtful responses, while helping to ingrain you in your acquaintance's mind.

Where Else Do You Normally Network?

Not only does this question help to break the ice during that sometimes-awkward period just after you've introduced yourself, but it also gives you a chance to talk about something you both know a little bit about. Keep a few of your unique networking experiences in mind, but don't jump into your answer before fully absorbing what the other person has to say.

This question is useful because it helps you make an instant connection with that other person. That's especially true if you can provide valuable information that they haven't heard before—they'll be more likely to remember the conversation, and by extension, you.

If you find someone who's new in town or new to a particular field, you've hit the jackpot; your advice will be useful, unique, and memorable.

What Do You Like Best About What You Do?

This is a good question to ask early on in the conversation because it's a fresher take on a classic question: "So what do you do?" You may want to know the answer, but there are more clever ways to approach it. Rephrasing the question this way can help you get the answer you want without invoking yawns or being forgotten along with all the other people who asked the same boring question.

It isn't uncommon for people to turn it right around and ask the same thing in return. That's why you'll want to think about your answer well before you make your introductions.

What Got You Started on Your Career Trajectory?

Save this question for the latter stages of the conversation. Of the three questions mentioned here, this will usually elicit the longest response. This ties into the previous question, but you should aim to be as specific as possible. Maybe they mentioned recently changing companies, getting a promotion, or moving to a new town. Instead of asking what got them into their career, you can ask about what sparked a change in direction. This is also an opportunity to show that you're listening closely.

If the question is timed correctly, the long response will naturally wind down the conversation, but not before giving you a chance to learn a little bit about what motivates this person and how they got to where they are today.