The two most common icebreaker questions in Los Angeles are “where are you from” and “what do you do (for a living)?” Understandable, because few people actually grew up here and most relocated for their industry. A quick, cordial method to find common ground (if any) or extract details enough to build a full conversation.
The problem? These questions assume that work or geographical heritage define a person’s individuality. While some levels of personality and culture can be inferred, there is so much more to a person than his or her job or hometown. Furthermore, with jobs being the core topic (because jobs are more current and relevant than where you grew up), conversations tend to become networking events. Work sneaks out of the office and slips into your Saturday night cocktail.
I cannot argue the value of building professional relationships, but oftentimes adults forget that it is important to have other types of relationships as well. I find it extremely difficult to meet new people in Los Angeles. Worse, I find it impossible to develop relationships with people outside the film industry. I blame a lot of it on these icebreaker questions. “Oh, we’re not in the same industry? We cannot work together, so, I guess … have a good night!? Nevermind that there are so many other levels we can connect on!”
My best friends here can carry on conversations about things other than work and the movies. Makes a big difference when you’ve been on film sets all day and need a mental break. And it makes a big difference when you need to feel like a human being, rather than a workaholic robot. Science, discovery, politics, love, perspective, health, the world, philosophy … the list is endless.
Every conversation does not need to be a networking event. Try to steer your meet and greets away from conventional topics. Pay close attention to people who bring more to the table than their resume.