When you are in a professional setting like your office or a networking event, work tends to be the topic at the center of most of the conversations. In these situations, it can still be difficult to connect or talk about your needs but talking about work is sort of the whole point. When you find yourself at a social event like a wedding, a dinner party, or a friend's birthday party it can be a little more uncomfortable to get to the conversation of work. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, because there can be tremendous value in connecting with people outside of your usual professional network. It may open different doors or give you insight into alternative career paths that you may not find in your normal career circle. It can feel awkward to talk about work at social events, but it doesn't have to be if you do it the right way.
1. Connect about something besides work.
Once you find yourself talking to someone, start with the easy stuff like how you know the hosts, news, sports, or weather. More importantly, listen to them and engage honestly in conversation. Ask them questions and show interest. People can sense when someone has an agenda during a conversation and that can be off-putting. You want the interaction to be sincere and genuine, and as you build the connection, work or opportunity can naturally come up.
2. Be honest about your professional situation.
Our careers and work are a large part of our lives, so it is inevitable that when you are talking to someone new, it will come up. When it does, ask them questions to understand what they do. People enjoy talking about themselves and it comes easy to them. Consider ways you can help them not vice versa. You want to show them that you are interested in building a relationship with them, not just pumping them for opportunities. When you are talking, be honest about your current work situation and what you may be looking for in the future.
3. Follow up after the event
If you think this would be a positive relationship for you and your career, follow up after. This may feel uncomfortable, but it is where the real impact can be made. When you are at a social event, it's a great place to make a connection and a contact, but not the place to lay out your career or business plan. This is better done after the event. Send an email or a message to continue the conversation. When networking, you will have a much better outcome if you value the relationship, and long term this can create more opportunities. If you go into it asking for a job, you will most likely lose out on the connection.
Most people establish and grow their careers by utilizing people in their network. It is important to make connections in your professional circle as well as your social one. You never know what opportunities will be available to you, but the more sincere relationships you can establish the more you'll be able to reap the benefits of your network.