DEAR HARRIETTE: My first university networking event is coming up, and I have no idea how to conduct myself. I have my business attire ironed and ready; however, my thoughts and game plan are not as set. How can I feel comfortable when meeting people so successful in my field when I've done nothing? Ice breakers seem to rarely break the ice. -- Networking, Boston
DEAR NETWORKING: Consider this an opportunity to learn. Go into the gathering with a mindset of gaining as much knowledge as you can.
When you meet people, ask specific questions that will engage them. Generally, people love to talk about themselves, so smart questions should get them going. When asked about yourself, be prepared to say why you are interested in this field and what you hope to do with your life. This can be a brief yet passionate statement, followed by more questions. Feel free to say to the people who have long been in this field that you look forward to being successful like they are as you build your career. If you find yourself in a quiet location where you have time for a more in-depth conversation, be sure to ask them about what they consider highlights of their journey, as well as challenges.
If the event is more like a traditional cocktail reception where people meet and chat momentarily before moving to the next person, be more strategic. Shake hands and make eye contact, introduce yourself with a strong voice and ask a key question. If you feel like the person might want to talk to you further, ask for a business card and then follow up right away by saying how nice it was to meet the person.