How To Actually Enjoy Networking Events

Hate Networking Events? You’re Not Alone

Do you have to drag yourself to networking events? Do you find yourself awkwardly nursing a drink or staking out the food table, wishing you were somewhere else? But you force yourself to stay because managing these events well is crucial to get hired or build your business.

Fortunately, there are some high-quality resources available to help you build your skills. Just one of these is Debra Fine’s “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” available both as a book and a recording.

Using her advice, you can enjoy networking events. Really.  Here are a few samples of her advice.


Prepare For Networking Events

Brainstorm before networking events to come up with three or more topics you can use to initiate conversation or to pick things up when conversation drags. Topics might include films and TV shows, current events, and happenings in your community.

How to Get The Other Person Talking

Be sure to go after more information, digging deeper into what people tell you. These phrases can help to develop memorable conversations:

  • Tell me more.
  • How did that happen?
  • What led you to do that?
  • Is that something I can do?

Networking Event Key: Use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions like these are more likely to get people talking.
What made you move to Kenilworth?
How did you get started into your current job?
What do you see as the biggest obstacles to success in your industry?

Closed questions get short answers.

Is your company located in Winnetka?
Do you live here in Highland Park?
Do you read the Wall Street Journal?
What’s your sign?

Not only are closed questions unlikely to develop good conversations, but asking too many closed questions can make the other person feel uncomfortable. They might even feel interrogated and wonder if you’re with the FBI.

Networking Event Strategy: Use Free Information 

We often can get what she calls “free information” from others through their appearance, words, and behavior. Grab onto this free information and use it to open up great conversations.

1) Words 

Many times, people tell us things that provide an opening to find out about them:

  • When we moved to Winnetka …
  • When I left my position at Chicago Faucet in Des Plaines …
  • Because I grew up on Chicago’s south side, I know …

Ask questions about this free information to develop conversations:

  • What made you move to Winnetka?
  • What do you think of the corporate culture at Chicago Faucet?
  •  Did you enjoy living on the south side?

Want to talk to us about your career advancement? 


2) Appearance

If you’re living in cold-winter places like Chicago or Milwaukee and you run across someone with a suntan in the middle of January, chances are they’ve taken a trip somewhere interesting—or at least know of a good tanning facility. Ask them about it.

At a small networking event, a man had a cast on his leg. When someone asked what happened, he said it was a skiing accident. This helped everyone in the room to get to know him better and generated some good-natured ribbing that got everyone laughing.

You might ask a woman wearing a distinctive piece of jewelry about where it came from and how she happened to find it.

3) Behavior–When you encounter a woman whose accent isn’t local, you might ask why she came to the United States or what part of the country she is from.

You might ask why she moved to the US

You might ask a woman who is left handed what issues come up with being a lefty.
If you see a man wearing a Chicago Cubs tie or lapel pin, you might ask about the first Cubs game he attended or who is his favorite Chicago player.

4) Occasion/Location-Questions about the event you’re or the spot of your encounter.

At a seminar: What led you to sign up for this seminar?
At an association meeting: How did you come to choose this field?
At a political rally: What led you to support this candidate?
At Joe’s birthday party: How do you know Joe?


At Networking Events: Don’t Create Awkwardness
Ms. Fine also advises keeping questions with acquaintances more general to avoid blundering into uncomfortable situations.

If you see John once or twice a year, don’t ask him, “How is that great job at Grainger in Lake Forest going?” He may have been demoted or fired since you last saw him. Instead, ask him, “How’s work going?” That way, he can tell you whatever he wants.

Similarly, don’t ask Sally, “How’s that gorgeous husband of yours?” Maybe he left her. You’re just an acquaintance. She doesn’t want to discuss her marital trauma with you. So instead, ask her something like, “What’s new with the family?” Again, this gives Sally the chance to share whatever she wants, without having to delve into painful issues.

Interested in Debra Fine’s book? 

Develop Your Networking Event Skills

I encourage you to equip yourself with these powerful tools Ms. Fine discusses. They can turn awful networking events into enjoyable ones and help you create relationships that can last for years. Getting hired, staying employed, getting new business, and being promoted are all about chemistry.

If you’re ready to move up or go in another direction in your career, don’t waste another day. Let’s talk. Call 847-673-0339 or send us a note.  — Steve Frederick and Jack Chapman 



4 Signs You’re About to Be Fired–And What to Do About It

Are you about to be fired?

Sometimes, people have no idea. One day, Bill was summoned to the conference room. There, a woman from Human Resources met with him to let him know he was being let go.

Bill, like a lot of people we’ve worked with, was devastated when this happened. He said there was no warning, but after he thought about it for a while, he recognized signs that should have alerted him to what was coming.

Don’t be taken by surprise.  Read this, recognize the warning signs, and take action.

.1) Sign You Might be Fired: Anger and Lack of Motivation


One of our Kenilworth clients, Dana, was the go-to-person in her department. She loved her job and the heavy responsibility she shouldered, but then a new boss assigned her to work that was well below her capabilities. She was suddenly bored—and upset.

Unfortunately, she chose to go along and pretend that all was well. But people around her weren’t fooled. They knew she was seething about the change in her job. We’ve found that a lot of people who despise their jobs believe—wrongly—that they are successfully hiding their feelings.

2) Sign You Might Be Fired: Stagnant/No Promotions / Maybe Even Demotions

Brian was a close confidant of the COO, and had a lot of clout in his company, located in Winnetka, IL. But that changed after the COO hired a manager named Martha. Suddenly, Martha was being asked for her opinion, rather than Brian. He overruled Brian on three critical matters on which he’d almost always taken Brian’s advice. When the boss delegated some important new responsibilities, Brian expected to get them. Instead, they went to Martha. Brian didn’t realize it yet, but he had effectively been demoted. This made him vulnerable.

Brian likes to be a good guy and went along without making a fuss. He didn’t read the handwriting on the wall and start looking for a new job—until the axe fell.

3) Sign You Might be Fired: Out of the Loop

A Chicago client, Anne, started to notice that she was the last to hear about important goings on in the office. She found out after the fact about a coup

Ann found hefself out of the loop

le of important strategy meetings. When she asked why she wasn’t told about them, she got the rather lame excuse that a low-level secretary had neglected to extend the invitation. She also found it difficult to get face time with her boss, who had nearly always had an open door for her.


4) Sign You Might Be Fired:  Relationship Inexplicably Improves

An Evanston client, Matt, frequently found he wasn’t on the same page with his CFO, Henry. They disagreed on priorities and Matt disliked Henry’s management style. Their conversations were cool and tense. Twice, their discussions exploded into bitter arguments. Working together was a strain—until suddenly, it wasn’t Things were all right. Henry was even pleasant. It was a great relief—until he got the notice he was being cut loose. Matt shouldn’t have been surprised. Knowing that Matt would soon be out of his hair made it easier for Henry to tolerate him.

Beware if you are suddenly treated much better—or worse. Ask yourself: if my boss was aware that I would be let go, would the changed in behavior make sense?

Is this happening to you? Be in action—NOW!

Here are four proactive steps you might take:

1) Put Your Cards on the Table

Depending on your relationship, you might just say, “Look, I can tell things aren’t working with us. Might we talk about how I can move on?” Sometimes, you can either negotiate a severance package and/or get time to find another position without having to sneak around.

2) Prepare for a job search

Get your resume up to date, fix your LinkedIn profile (most people have boring profiles), and figure out what’s next for you. Assistance from a career coach can help you hit the ground running. This is not a time for blundering around in the job market. Make the time and effort you expend count.

3) Get out of the office, if you can

If your job allows, find activities outside the office. You’ll need to have a schedule with some flexibility and freedom to be out of the office for networking meetings and job interviews.

4) Talk to an attorney

If there’s any reason to believe you’ve been discriminated against because of age, race, creed, color, gender, etc., you may have a case for legal action. You may or may not want to actually sue your employer, but the threat of a lawsuit can give you more power in negotiating a way out.

Don’t wait for that pink slip

Be in action today!

If you’re afraid you might be let go—let’s talk. Call us at 847-673-0339.

Retirement Can Be Terrifying

I recently heard about a man who died within a week of his retirement party.

That’s an extreme case, but retirement can be very hard on people. Quick declines in health after retirement are common. One study showed that around 40% of retirees suffer from clinical depression.

Though many of us can’t wait to retire, the reality is often much more difficult than what we imagined.

Mark’s Unplanned Retirement: Irrelevant and bored

Mark, an executive at a Fortune 500 company, was a guy who made things happen. He developed teams whose effectiveness and high morale were the envy of his colleagues. But after decades of heavy responsibilities, he looked forward to getting off the merry-go-round of corporate life and communing with nature and his wife, Helen.

Much to his dismay, he found that Helen wasn’t happy with him being around the house all the time. In fact, he overheard a phone conversation in which she told a friend that he was driving her nuts.

To make matters worse, he just didn’t fit in with the old crowd from work. They were nice enough to him, but he wasn’t part of things anymore. As for his retired friends, he didn’t see them as often as he had hoped. They were busy.

While he enjoyed retirement sometimes, more often, he felt irrelevant and bored.

Do you have a retirement plan?

Executives are all about planning their time and their efforts. It’s what makes them successful. But many find themselves in retirement with no real plan. How will I spend my time? What will make me feel fulfilled? How do I make myself useful?

Transitioning to retirement can be tough. There’s no longer structure to your days. You don’t have to show up anywhere in the morning. The camaraderie and sense of purpose that you had at work are suddenly gone.

Retirement Planning: Let Passion Be Your Guide

In our work with retirees, we’ve seen many people find a passion that drives them. Sometimes, they find a new place to apply the passion of their career, while others go in a new direction.

One Retirement Plan: A Hobby Becomes a Business

When it came time for Tom to retire from his insurance agency, he wanted to stay active. No shuffleboard or bingo for him. On the other hand, he wanted to tone things down. The demands of his agency had destroyed his marriage years earlier. He was engaged to a lovely woman from Australia and didn’t want to screw it up by becoming a slave to his work again.

He was fortunate in that lots of people were interested in hiring him—especially for sales positions. He had three offers and was tempted to grab one of them. We advised him to slow down and make careful decisions.

As we examined the sales jobs offered, we advised Tom to say no, since those were likely to turn into sixty-hour-per-week (and more) jobs. Instead, we did some brainstorming with him. As we did, we learned that he was a yacht owner and loved boats. He’d been a boat owner since he was a teenager. He’s also very engaging and loves to be in front of people.

In fact, while he was in the military many years ago, he was part of a national campaign to educate people about the newly-discovered dangers of hypothermia. He would descend in a helicopter onto the football field of various high schools, then give a talk to the awed students. He’s a man who loves the limelight.

We suggested that he become a coach for boat owners, showing them how to operate their vessels so their outings are safe and enjoyable. People who don’t know what they’re doing can injure or kill themselves or others. He loved the idea. Not only was this an activity that he is passionate about, but it allowed him to work only as much as he wanted. It also provided tremendous geographic flexibility, as he could be a boat coach in both the US and Australia. An added bonus: his soon-to-be wife could share the activity with him.


Using Professional Passion In a Different Way

As an engineer at Motorola, Gerry had worked on a fascinating project: developing the cell phone. He’d been in the project from the development of the very first phones, and stayed on for years, working on the various upgrades. He loves to talk about the many challenges the engineers faced, such as how to keep these huge, clunky phones from “blowing up” if they were dropped. He loves to tell about the hostile reception he got when he suggested that people might want to send texts instead of calling. This idea so infuriated the boss that he was threatened with being kicked out of meetings for suggesting this “ridiculous” idea.

Now that he’s retired, he’s passionate about sharing engineering concepts and getting kids as excited as he was about the field. He began to make presentations at local schools about the development of the cell phone as a practical application of Science, Technology, Education, and Math (STEM) curriculum.


Another Retirement Plan: Rediscovering the Road Not Taken

Like a lot of people, Mary was talked into doing something practical instead of following her passion for the theater. After she retired, she decided to reignite that passion. She’s acting in plays at a community theater and helping with a weekend improv workshop that gives high school kids something fun to do, keeping many of them from boozing and causing trouble.

Retirement Strategy: Volunteer possibilities

The possibilities for getting involved are nearly endless. So many organizations are hungry for volunteers to contribute time and energy to their mission. Many retirees have found that a volunteer job that resonates with them plus quality time with friends and family is what a good retirement is all about.  Retired Brains is just one site on volunteering that might get your thoughts flowing.

Are You Ambitious?

If you’re ambitious, being “old” doesn’t have to stop you. Many people shine brightly in the twilight of their lives. Grandma Moses decided to start painting at age 78 and became a great artist. After he retired, Colonel Sanders launched Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Some retirees challenge themselves like never before. Just one example is the Boston Marathon. A recent race featured an 83-year-old PLUS another 596 people who were 65 or even older.

No Retirement Plan? You’re not alone.

There’s no time like the present to make one. Contact us. We can set up a 2-hour Retirement Planning Meeting to help you develop a satisfying plan.

If you’re feeling bored and unfulfilled, Let’s talk. Call me at 847-673-0339 or fill out the contact form.

Job Interview Tip: How to Turn Rejection To Opportunity

That Job interview was so promising. Then you get the rejection note.

You had great rapport. The conversation was stimulating. You were excited. You were as good as hired. And then they said no?

What now?


Then you got that rejection note….

Of course, it’s terribly disappointing. You might be tempted to get mad and scream at the employer (in the privacy of your home, of course).

Vent if you must, but then, get smart.

One of the three things that win job interviews is good human relations (the other two are enthusiasm and clear communications). Use your good human relations to your advantage to turn this situation around.


Job Interview Success and Human Relations

Since empathy is a key to good human relations, think about what’s going on with the boss. You had good rapport. She liked you and saw you as a good candidate. But apparently, someone she liked better came along. Or she was forced to hire her boss’s nephew. Or it may have been a toss-up between you and another candidate. Chances are, she feels awful about having to reject you.

Overcome the awkwardness after the job interview

Since she rejected you, there is awkwardness. It’s like when you go on a date and tell the person you don’t want to go out with him/her again. It’s hard to face them. If you see them on the street or in an elevator, it would be awkward. There’s been a breakdown in the relationship.

Smart job hunters know that it’s important to address and heal this awkwardness. How do you do that?

Send a letter of appreciation

As you know, the good old-fashioned thank you note is much appreciated, but a very small percentage of candidates send one. This is a big mistake. Thank you notes give you the chance to stand out from the crowd. Let the boss know that you appreciate that she took time out of her day to meet with you. Hopefully, you did that already.

All right, but you’ve already been rejected, so what now? Send a note of appreciation. Let her know that you understand that she picked the person that seemed best for the job. Give your best wishes both to her and to the candidate who got the job.

As I’ve said, few people bother to send a thank you note after the interview. Almost no one thanks the boss after being rejected. If you do, you will probably be the only one.

Now, take this further.

Contact the boss and ask if you might add him to your network. Not just your LinkedIn network. Many of us have thousands of LinkedIn connections, including people from other continents who we will never meet in this lifetime. We add people, and they just sit there in our list of connections and rot.

Try to make them part of your real network, and stay in touch.

Ask if you might meet the boss for networking

If he’s willing, draw on the boss’s knowledge of what’s going on in his company, in the industry, with vendors, and their customers. He may well be able to refer you to others in his company or to people he knows in other companies. The boss can give a boost to your efforts to build your visibility and credibility and meet the people who can hire you.

Remember that in the job hunt, you are planting seeds when you make connections. You never know when they may sprout.

Ask if you can meet with the boss on a networking basis

Sometimes, the results are quick. The candidate who seemed like the best person for the job doesn’t work out. One client from Winnetka got hired within weeks of being rejected. The candidate they hired received another offer a month after starting the new job. When he abruptly quit, the boss called our client.

Other times, the seed may sprout many months or years later—if you keep in touch. A client from Glenview stayed in touch with an executive with whom he’d had good rapport in an interview and got hired three years later.

It’s a small world. You never know when someone you interview with will resurface. Make sure you make the most of each and every contact.

Contact us about our job interview coaching. We’ll help you get in the driver’s seat in your next interview.