Four Ways to Build Your Career Through Conversations
Here at SoFi, our career strategy team is committed to helping your career flourish. Last week, we introduced our “Fundamentals for Career Success” series by focusing on your inner strength and developing resilience. This week, we’re sharing more must-haves for your success and happiness by focusing on others and building meaningful relationships.
As head of SoFi’s Career Strategy team, I advise and coach hundreds of people each year on the importance of good conversation skills in business, especially as they prepare for interviews. And I repeatedly notice the same thing: many of them qualify for a role, but can’t get past the interview stage because they don’t know how to tackle conversations in effective ways.
I recently worked with a candidate who’s exploring his career options and seeking out informational interviews. He’d had a few conversations with individuals willing to help, but none extended beyond 10 minutes, and responses to his follow-up emails were weak, at best. But six weeks after our last coaching session, he had an offer in hand.
Regardless of your scenario—whether you’re looking for guidance with job interviews, negotiating pointers, or smart ways to handle contentious meetings— here are a few tips to get you on track to becoming a better communicator and landing that dream job.
Get in the right mindset.
The goal of every conversation is to make sure the person you’re talking to has a positive experience. This is crucial to building and retaining trust. Without trust, a relationship doesn’t stand a chance of surviving.
Lets say you’re looking for a job. You go to a business event, chat with a few people, pass out your cards, and then … nothing. No callbacks, just crickets. What went wrong?
At the risk of stating the obvious, you can’t network successfully until you forge real relationships with influential people. To do this, it helps to get in a relaxed frame of mind when approaching conversations, and remember that those relationships shouldn’t necessarily be built around an end goal. I recommend taking the objective—be it an informational interview, a job lead, or a job offer—off the table initially.
Talk as if you were engaging a friend, and connect on a level that doesn’t involve career needs. Get in a friendly mindset and focus on creating a positive interaction, regardless of the outcome. Remember, people want to work with or support those they like personally, so be yourself and take the sales pitch out of it.
You should still prepare.
Although the goal is to build the relationship first and network later, you still need to be prepared. For example, once you land an informational interview, prep for it with a 360-degree view. In other words, don’t just think about what you want; think about what the other person may need, too. Research that person and the business. Where did the interviewer work previously? Has the company or industry recently been in the news? What new products have been released? Know your goals for the conversation and prepare a list of great open-ended questions to ask.
Ask, listen, and learn.
Ease into the conversation; don’t be impatient and rush into a prepared pitch. After introductions, allow the interviewer to talk first. This is not only integral to a good conversation, but also advice that helped the candidate I mentioned earlier net a job offer in six weeks.
When you have the opportunity, lead with a question that shows you’ve done your homework, and listen carefully to the answer. Use the opportunity to learn more. Then, ask follow-up questions based on the answers you received.
I know a guy in the private equity industry who has intimidating energy. He once told me that he only hires people who lean forward and place their elbows on the table or desk during interviews. That might sound bold, but it actually makes perfect sense—people like others who match their energy. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should mimic an interviewer’s body language, however. Instead, just be aware of how he acts.
Lets say the other person exudes high energy. In that scenario, you’d want to raise your level of energy to make a real connection. If, on the other hand, the person is more low key, tone down your demeanor to match his.
Professionals, especially those just starting their careers, are smart to take conversation skills seriously, but it could be a struggle for some. The good news is that anyone can improve with practice. In the same way you can better your hard skills game, you can sharpen communication skills. All it takes is a little coaching and practice for the business world to open up for you in ways you never imagined.
SoFi’s Career Coaching Team provides even more insight into how you can build toward professional success. Interested? Sign up today for individualized career planning, personal brand building, and job search assistance.