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job search

This is the fifth in a series of articles addressing the eight different stages of the job search and the tangible things you can do to navigate them.

Have you ever found yourself exchanging business cards and shaking hands at a conference, feeling just a bit insincere? Cringing when you hear another speaker tell you to cloak your selfishness in gratitude and mingle. Many of the most over-simplified and misunderstood job search clichés have to do with networking.

Networking is a key stage of the job hunting process, but effective networking has less to with 'getting yourself out there,' – the commonly lauded advice – and more to do with what you present once you're there.

What do you actually say when you walk into an event and find yourself standing face to face with a stranger? When someone asks, "what do you do?" how do you respond? What do you say if you are confused about your path? Do you tell them about what you have done, or what you are hoping to do?

Below are four alternative conversation entry points that enable you to steer your career conversations and help you network with sincerity, confidence and clarity.

I am working on learning X so I can rethink industry Y.

This response will most likely prompt further questioning about your industry and what 'rethinking' means. Have these answers well-thought out. Then you might ask, "What industry are you in?" Ask if there are any upstarts rethinking their industry, and the conversation will flow from there. Be prepared to discuss how your non-linear career path prepared you for this work.

I work in X area/industry doing Y.

Y, in this case, is your broader career goal rather than your job description. For example, Y = Helping people build their companies (if you want to work in operations); Helping people get jobs (if you want to work in HR); Working on the business side (if you want to work in sales or leadership); Working on the creative side (if you want to work in graphic design or strategy).

Their next question will likely be about how you do what you do. Choose this introduction if you love talking about the future of your work.

I am trying to figure out where to go from X, taking time to figure it out and plotting my next move.

In this instance, X will be an explanation of the last work project you were excited about. Choose a project that really animates you, about which you know a great deal. Before you finish talking, ask them: "What do you think your next career move will be?" This conversation opener tends to create discussions about the non-linearity of life in general.

I am learning about X right now, which is very exciting. What are you learning about in your work?

You will likely be asked why and how you are learning X. If you are excited about learning and expanding your skill set, this is your perfect introduction.

Write out and practice your answers, then reflect on the conversations they lead to. Networking doesn't have to be selfish, tired and tedious, and you need not get stuck in the same scripted responses about your work. With these four introductions you can direct your conversations so they are stimulating and rewarding for both parties.

Dev Aujla (@devaujla) is the author of Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World, creator of the website 50waystogetajob.com, and the CEO of Catalog, a strategic advisory and recruiting company that works with companies that do good.