How to Steer a Conversation for Job Search Networking

Business Articles

By David Bellm

Approximately 450 words

Search terms:
job search, resume writing, career, job interview, employment

Networking conversations aren’t very useful if the discussion never gets to where you’re trying to go. But you don’t have to depend on luck or be a master conversationalist to steer the topic effectively. Here’s how anyone can do so.

It’s one thing to be able to meet great networking contacts. But it’s a whole different matter to able to get great things from them. The difference is largely a matter of your ability to guide conversations toward the subject that suits you best.

Sounds manipulative? No. It’s just good conversation skill. Done well, it’s not a forceful, pushy exchange. Those who understand how to steer a discussion know that it’s really just a matter of a few basic techniques. Sure, some people have a more natural talent for making conversations go where they want. But it’s something anyone can learn. Here are the basics of this crucial job search skill.

Know what your objectives are
Before you even go into a networking situation, review what your goals are. Are you looking for additional contacts? Are you looking to get a face-to-face meeting? Are you looking to discuss a particular company’s big project? Know where the end goal is so you can see how you might guide your conversations toward it.

Consider the time frame
When you begin talking to a contact, consider what the possible time frame is. This dictates how quickly you’ll have to make your transitions. For example, if you’re chatting with someone you met in an elevator you’d better cut to the important stuff pretty quick, or you’ll miss your chance. On the other extreme, if you’re talking to someone you’re sitting next to in a business luncheon, you can wait longer for good transitions to emerge.

Building great transitions
Making smooth transitions is the real heart of steering conversations. Do so by linking what the person said to another thing that takes you closer to where you want to go. For example, if the person starts talking about his vacation to Florida and you’re looking to discuss jobs in North Carolina, you can link the two by gently interjecting something like “I’ve always loved Florida. I wonder what it’s like to work there?” From that point, the conversation can be easily guided to jobs in the Southeast, and then onward to the Carolinas.

Don’t force it
Once you learn to make smooth transitions, you’ll be amazed at how easily you can steer conversations across huge spans of subjects. But don’t get carried away. Sure, you can theoretically guide any topic to any other subject in just a few steps. But the person you’re speaking with will get mighty suspicious if you force the transitions too hard – it looks manipulative and phony. If you’re unsure of how abruptly it might come off, then break the transitions into smaller steps. The smaller the transitions, the more natural and spontaneous the conversation will seem. As usual, practice makes perfect.