Career Advice

Working A Summer Picnic

It’s a beautiful evening full of pasta salads, watermelon and neighbors sharing a summer repast. You try to decide whether to join the softball game or conversations under the trees.

Then you spot the head of the marketing firm where you just sent your resume. You switch from low-key friendly to intense elevator pitch mode and head her way.

Summer professional networking can show up around a picnic table or on a golf course, and those social occasions require different approaches than fall professional events. Read the social cues and remember: It’s a fun evening not a business event, said Diane Darling, who runs Effective Networking and is the author of The Networking Survival Guide (May, McGraw Hill).

“Build rapport,” she said. “It sounds trite but you do need to know how to have a good conversation.”

Here’s some more of Darling’s advice on summer picnic networking:

  • Come up with conversation starters. Ask about summer plans or discuss the latest movies. Use open ended queries such as “What was your favorite summer vacation?” or “Tell me about how you landed your job.”
  • Have a good clean joke ready.  “Nothing brings people together more than laughter,” she said.
  • Help put people at ease. Many people are uncomfortable in social settings. So if you help them feel at ease, you’ve started a good connection.
  • If you have sweaty hands or arms, hold a cold bottle or can in your right hand. Then blame the sweat on the drink and the person you meet isn’t turned off.
  • Expect interruptions. Children need to find the restroom; guacamole needs refilling; the games start or finish.
  • Know when to move on, especially when talking to the boss or president of the neighborhood association. Say: “I’ve enjoyed our conversation. I’m sure there are a lot of other people who want to talk to you,” Darling suggests.

The big mistake:  Taking 20 minutes or more to discuss your career or business plan in the middle of a summer social event. Of course it’s the only thing you think about, but your new contact wants to relax and enjoy the golf outing or ice cream social, not dig up contacts or advice for you.

Darling tells of the time she was carrying a birthday cake out to the partygoers and the person holding the screen door said to her “By the way Diane, I saw on your Linkedin profile that you know so and so and I’m trying to get a job there….”  In her mind she’s screaming: “Dude, I’m carrying a cake!” She knew immediately he was not a good fit for the employer culture. Yet the guy persisted and pestered her for an introduction through the celebration.

Instead, he could have taken a quieter moment and inquired about the company he targeted. Then after only a few minutes, he might suggest a real conversation later on – over coffee or in a 15 minute phone call.  The next day send your contact an email, Darling says, saying you enjoyed the picnic or birthday party and list the two or three things you’d like their advice on.

And remember: A picnic or golf outing happens in “open air,” Darling says, “and people can’t be candid. You don’t know who’s listening.”