Job Search Series – How to Work a Room (Full of Strangers) – Part 3

Conversing and Connecting

“It occurs to me that our survival may depend
upon our talking to one another.” ~ Dan Simmons, Hyperion

I agree with author Simmons’s pithy observation. Of course, there are many types of survival. Learning how to turn strangers into strong relationships will make you a survivor of the networking circuit!

This week I’d like to focus on getting in and out of groups and conversations gracefully.

Following up on the playing-host concept, once you’ve broken the ice in this manner, continue to focus on making others comfortable and welcome. Also remember, however, that your goal is to circulate and meet as many people as possible, so you should spend no more than 15 minutes or so talking to one person or group of persons before you take your leave and move on to another individual or group.

Let’s look at the steps, which I like to think of as the POWER formula:
Pass by-Observe-Wait-Engage in conversation / Excuse Yourself-Repeat.

Pass By

As you stroll through the room alone, select a group that interests you and slowly pass by.


Assess whether the people in the group appear to be friendly and receptive to your joining them; are in deep conversation and seem unaware of others; or if there is an individual or pair or group of people that look as though they are bored and uncomfortable and in need of rescuing.


Once you have found an opening to approach and individual or group, introduce yourself, using your prepared and rehearsed – but natural sounding — five-to-10-second brief introduction (you’ll also have your 30-second positioning statement  / elevator pitch ready to elaborate or answer the question, “What do you do?”).

  • “Hello, I’m Marjorie, with Morningstar Hedge Funds. May I join you? (First names only are fine if you are wearing a name badge; your introduction should prompt questions or comments, and you will have an opportunity to elaborate.)”
  • “Hi! Jack Connors here. I’m a fine arts student at Carnegie Mellon, and this is my first gallery opening. Do you mind if I join you and learn something?”
  • “Excuse me, I couldn’t help overhearing that you are Senator Fine’s campaign communications director. I’m Laurie Cooper, and I was a summer intern in the Senator’s New York office last year.”
  • “Do you believe this fabulous, buffet? Hi, I’m Lester Goode, foodie! And aspiring food editor!”

Engage in Conversation

Once you’ve answered any questions about yourself, turn the conversation back to members of the group. Focus on them, practice active. In preparing for the event, you briefed yourself on both general and industry news and prepared three to five topics on which you are prepared to converse, and familiarized yourself with others scanning  the book bestseller list and movie and theatre reviews. Resist the temptation to get on your soapbox or monopolize the conversation, even if you have strong convictions; this is not the time to argue or spark controversy. You want to engage in pleasant conversation, not commandeer it. Keep your comments brief and congenial; remember that the more you listen and ask questions that move the discussion along, the more you will impress.

Keep your focus on with whomever you are conversing. Never take your eyes off of them to scan the room. That’s an insult that will not be soon forgotten. Think how you’d feel if while speaking to someone, her eyes wandered to glance beyond you? Always make the person or persons you’re with feel as though they are the most important.

Excuse Yourself

This is the time to offer your business card to any people in the group with whom you have developed a rapport and made a connection.

  • “May I give you my card? I’d love to continue this conversation some time, maybe over coffee or lunch.”
  • “If I could have your card I’ll be glad to call you for an appointment to talk about how my company might be able to help you with your plans for a new customer information system. Thank you. Here’s mine. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.”
  • “Would you be open to my meeting with you for an information interview? I really appreciate your advice and will follow up on it. Yes, I have a card. Thank you. May I have yours?”

When you accept someone’s business card, hold it in both your hands and examine it appreciatively. This shows the person whose card it is that you are respectful of him and are grateful to receive it. After looking at the card, look up at the person and smile, make a comment or simply say, “thanks, again.” Then carefully put the card in your pocket, wallet or handbag. Shake hands and bid him or her farewell.

  • “Thanks, again. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to seeing you again.”
  • “I’ve enjoyed speaking with you (or all of you). I’ve learned so much about the ABC Company! I’m impressed. I’m going to have to excuse myself now, but hope to run into you again.”
  • “This has been an interesting discussion! I’m sorry I have to leave you, but hope to see you again.”
  • Sometimes the group breaks up naturally, allowing you to gracefully exit.


Move on to the next person or group and repeat the process.

While working the room, you want to mingle but you also want to make quality connections. Therefore, if you make only one or two new acquaintances that seem solid – you’ve conversed, built a rapport, exchanged cards – you can consider the event a success. Along those lines, you need not hand out your cards as though they were fliers; exchange cards when the moment is appropriate. Again, make a point to balance quantity with quality.

Following these tips and techniques will help you to become an expert conversationalist and connector. No fooling!

Join me next week for the wrap-up of this series!

Until next time,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s