In networking, meeting new people, interviewing, or participating in meetings, the ability to ask good, thought-provoking questions is a skill that will serve you well. Say you meet a honcho at a company you dream of working for. Asking interesting questions instead of the standard ones people always ask will make you memorable.
So, how do you ask good questions?
Ask open ended questions. So instead of, Do you like xyz?, ask, What are your thoughts on xyz?
On that note, ask for people’s opinions. We all have them and many of us are happy to share. Example: What do you think it takes to be successful in [industry]?
If you’re at a networking event or social function and don’t know who people are, a good, safe, all-purpose starter is always: How do you spend most of your time? That way, whether the person is a high-powered executive or a SAHM, it’s worded so it doesn’t diminish their contributions. So what do you do? sounds like you’re only interested in what kind of job that person has, which may or may not be true. When you ask how people spend their time, they can also respond in a variety of ways, and if you happen to have a shared interest, you're more likely to find out about it this way.
In an interview, you’ll almost always be given the opportunity to ask questions, typically at the end. ALWAYS have questions for your interviewer. Not having any shows lack of interest or lack of preparation. Remember, don’t ask anything that can be easily answered on the company website.
If you need to make small talk, you can always ask someone where they're from, or read the news and bring up current events or an interesting article you read.