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3 Sure-Fire Icebreakers for Networking Events

Figuring out what to say to someone you just met at a networking or recruiting event can befuddle even the most confident executive on Wall Street. How do you convey warmth, sincerity, confidence, and curiosity without coming across as disingenuous? If you are actively networking or going through recruiting events (first-year MBA’s out there, I am talking to you) to try to land an interview, informational or new job lead, here are three ideas to help you break the ice with the key contact you’ve just met.

How to Break the Ice at Networking Events (Photo: iStockphoto)


A straightforward greeting and firm handshake is always appreciated
I am always surprised at how often I observe professionals at all levels continuing to struggle with the most basic of introductions, which is why I am listing this here as my number one suggestion. Nothing communicates confidence and pleasantness more than a strong handshake with a smile. Seriously, why are people in New York so serious at social events? A smile is in fact the most effective ice breaker out there. It’s so easy to get a conversation going with someone simply by saying hello, stating your name clearly, extending your hand, and making eye-to-eye contact.

Find out as much as you can about the person you’ve just met
Similar to the strategy I encourage my clients to use during the final stages of an interview, the more you can steer a conversation to focus squarely on your new acquaintance, the better and easier it will be to break the ice and ease any initial tension. Try to ask specific questions about their role with the company you are targeting or trying to network into and find out what they most enjoy about what they do. Exercise judgment, however, in going too deep in talking shop. If you are at a recruiting event for a big bank or consulting firm, the rep you are talking to might be coming off a 100-hour work week and talking about her current deal or engagement is the last thing she wants to do. If that’s the case, ask about what brought them to the company in the first place to see if you have any common ground.

Sincere compliments can serve you well
Most attendees at a corporate networking event will be dressed quite well and putting their best face forward. Use this to your advantage when trying to break the ice with a new contact. Clearly, be tactful about what you say and utilize caution to avoid saying something inappropriate. But noticing jewelry, shoe selection, or style is generally welcomed. This can also be a great conversation starter if you share taste. Whatever you do, say what you say at these events with a smile and great energy – this will allow you to make a great first and lasting impression.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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