So, how do we get there from here?

“So, what do you do?”

It’s the clichéd question that almost everyone asks at a networking event. Is it boring? Maybe. But boring works and it just might lead to a much deeper appreciation of the other person.

This is the fourth in my series on conversational topics for the one-to-one, whether it’s a coffee, lunch, breakfast or what have you. You can read the prior posts (on “Interests“, “Networks“, and “Future Focus“), but it isn’t necessary. These all stem from the INFER system that I came up with a couple of years ago. The general idea is to create moments of connection that are both memorable and useful.

So, back to the discussion of their evolution. In this case we’re talking about how they got from where they were then to where they are now. What was the sequence of events, and more importantly, what were the reasons for their decisions.

About a year ago, I spoke at the Washtenaw Prisoner ReEntry for a program called “Job Club”. This was a weekly meeting that returning citizens would attend to help them develop the skills they needed to become a gainfully employed, valued member of society. I was chatting with one of the gentlemen before the meeting. Carl (not his real name), as with many of the other attendees, was looking for a job.

What was different about Carl was that he specifically wanted a janitorial position. I thought it a bit curious as most of his compatriots simply wanted “a job”, so I asked why. He told me that such a position would allow him to bring some order from chaos and make the world just a little better for those around him. It was a way that he could make a positive impact with his life.

You could see him stand a little straighter when he talked about his reasons.

When we ask the other person about the path they’ve traveled and the choices they’ve made, one of several things might happen:

  1. At the minimum, we move along the conversation. Asking someone about their career path is about the least intrusive way to get them to talk. Easy questions to use are:
    • How long have you been selling widgets?
    • How did you get started?
    • What do you enjoy about selling widgets?
    • What changes have you seen in the industry?
    • What’s the most important thing a new widget salesperson should know?
  2. You make them the star of the movie of the week and let them be the expert. They get to talk about their favorite topic (themselves). If they’ve been in business for any amount of time they may have some valuable insights. Sincerely telling them that they’ve inspired you with something they’ve said could certainly go a long way toward them seeing you as someone worthy of their time and effort.
  3. You find out information that will help you recommend them to others in your network. Take the example of Carl I spoke about earlier. If I found someone in need of a janitor, I could just say “You should hire Carl. He would be a good janitor.” It wouldn’t be a particularly inspiring referral and probably wouldn’t garner him much more attention than any other applicant. If, however, I said “Hire Carl for the position. I spoke with him not long ago and he told me that he views being a janitor as an opportunity to make the world a cleaner and better place. In his mind, it’s a way he can leave a positive impact on the world.” Wouldn’t that leave a more remarkable impression on anyone looking to hire Carl?
Every one of us has a story about the struggles we’ve gone through to become who we are today. In fact, sometimes I refer to the “E” in INFER as their “Epic Journey”. Learn the other person’s story. You don’t have to necessarily walk a mile in their shoes, but at least listen to what they tell you about the path. Not only will it bring you closer, but it may stop you from a misstep or two as well.
Photo by stock.xchng user bschwehn