Ch. 4: Networking at Conventions & Job Fairs
In Ch. 3: Social Networking we discussed the three big social networks to use when searching for a new position, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. In this chapter we're going to look at traditional, face-to-face networking at local conventions and job fairs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that more than 70 percent of jobs are found through personal networks.
Conventions and job fairs are solid ways to traditionally network with people in your industry and make great connections. Meeting people face-to-face will help you become more memorable and segue to more lasting relationships.
Furthermore, conventions and fairs allow you to meet like-minded people who are exposed to a environments different than those your close friends and family experience, opening yourself up to new opportunities, perspectives, attitudes and resources.
Taking advantage of the weak tie principle, which states that your weakest ties, i.e acquaintances, can lead to more beneficial opportunities, will allow you to extend your network, and will connect you with people that could potentially lead to landing a job you want. This chapter consists of the best ways to hack these events to get the most out of them and further your career.
What do you want to accomplish in going to networking events? Before you actually attend a convention or fair, make a list of concrete goals and stick to them. Maybe you want to meet specific presenters or talk with certain organizations.
Make that a top priority. Other goals could be collecting business cards, practicing meeting people out of your league, like celebrity presenters or big organizations, making memorable impressions, etc.
One of the best goals you can shoot for is to set up a coffee date with an influencer or presenter in your field. If it's a job fair, try to set up a follow up meeting, or at least ask if you can contact them for an interview. However, this can be difficult to pull off since many people at the same event are going to be trying to same thing. That shouldn't discourage you, though, because if you don't try, you've already failed.
Whatever your goal, spend ample time trying to fulfill the mission and set attainable, meaningful goals. If your goal is handing out marketing materials, like business cards, to important people, try to have real conversations and make a great impression. When you set clear goals, with clear objectives to meet those goals, the results you will see from your networking efforts will pay off tenfold.
Take time to check into who will be presenting and the important organizations that will be at the networking event to get a clearer picture of what questions you need to prepare and goals you need to create. Visit the organization's websites or Google the speakers to learn about them, their mission, and their backgrounds. Find out what's important to them and their principles.
Create questions geared to fit their expertise and to engage them intellectually. Try to meet them. If you can, email them before the event to get on their mind. Say you look forward to seeing them at the event. If you can build a history with a presenter it will help break the ice when you see them in person.
Don't be afraid to meet people at the events. Be clear and time conscious. Come with intelligent, open-ended questions. In most cases time is limited for everyone, so make yours count.
Since time is limited and important, make a schedule. It will help you move around the event with purpose and tact. Be sure to spend time listening to the presenters you would like to meet and also mingling with people in the field so you can meet with people on your level that can be more willing to listen and help.
Pick the most important organizations you want to meet with and the presenters you want to listen to. Make it a top priority to make it to their booth or presentation. Take time to hang out in any lounge areas like lunch rooms or break rooms.
You can meet people in a more relaxed setting and make some beneficial connections with like-minded peers. Set appointments with presenters or leaders of the organization prior to the event, so you can use time wisely and meet them at a particular time instead of trying to cold-meet them.
Go to the parties. Schedule in time to go have cocktails with people you meet and attend the after parties. It might cut into your sleep time, but you can engage with people in a loose atmosphere when people have their guards down. In fact, post-event celebrations are typically the best places to engage with peers on an individual, personal level. Take advantage of the setting and gather as much information as you can.
Whether it's a job fair or a convention, you want to dress for the style of event you are attending. You don't want to be the only guy that shows up in a suit and tie, but you don't want to look like a slob either.
It is important to research the event you will attend and match the dress code. It's probably safe to assume that most dress codes are conservative business attire, but some conventions are casual and you don't need to wear a three piece. Check the itinerary for information. Look stylish and polished.
Just because you don't have to wear a suit doesn't mean you shouldn't look clean. Even if you can wear shorts, make sure they aren't ratty and stay away from the graphic tee. Keep some mints on hand. Most fairs and conventions last for hours, so it is important to keep yourself looking and smelling fresh. Keep some deodorant and a comb in your computer case, brief case, or wherever. You don't want to blow a important meeting because you smell like coffee and onions.
Business cards are an important and overlooked element in your networking plan. Business cards can say what you might not get a chance to. Make sure they are clean, understated, and professional.
A good business card can work for you when you might only get a passing moment for an introduction. State your name, email, phone, and a main deliverable--specific functions and capabilities you possess.
Keep them concise and clean. Don't cloud them with eye garbage. If you don't have any business cards, you can create your own and order them from Vistaprint. Be prepared to accept and store other peers business cards and information.
Keep a card binder or something else that will suffice to house people's business cards. Don't forget you can store information in your phone as well.
Strike up a conversation with anyone who seems interesting or big presenters who may seem unattainable. Many people are willing to talk as long as you're intelligent about it and ask smart, open-ended questions that engages and prompts a dialogue. Be friendly. Don't alienate people with a pretentious demeanor or shut off people whom you think are lesser than you.
Be open to any conversation and be able to maneuver through any situation you find yourself. Engaging people with a good smile and non-intrusive eye contact will make a good impression and show people you care about what they have to say. Since time is limited, keep introductions to about 30 seconds to a minute.
This is plenty of time to gauge if a further conversation is possible or wanted. Don't sound rushed or rehearsed. Be genuine and talk to people like they're humans, not opportunities.
Listen to what other have to say and encourage their speaking over yours. Don't jump in and finish their sentences, sit back and let them talk. Not only will it make them like you, but you can think about more questions and learn about who you are talking to.
Take time to try and meet presenters and people that you think are out of your league. Not only will it build your confidence, it might land you some meaningful connections. Be sure to go to their presentations and take great notes. Sit close to the stage and listen intently. Stimulate conversation with great questions, if given the chance.
After they are done with their speech, try to make an impression and get some of their time. If they talk to you, ask them two of your most important questions and try to land an interview or meeting at a later time. Be short and don't take up much of their time. If it doesn't work out, try to at least slip them a business card and send them an email later in the week if you can.
Although it's important to meet presenters and high profile individuals, don't spend all your time trying to do so. It is just as important to meet people on your level and peers that will be more willing to talk to you and make beneficial connections. Just because they aren't high profile doesn't mean they can't connect you with someone who is.
After the commotion has died down from the convention or fair, it is important to keep ties with those you met and made connections with. Maintaining your network is just as important as building it. Email those you want to meet with again within a few days. You want to stay fresh in their minds and continue building on your history.
Wait until at least a day or two until you email them so you don't seem needy or overly eager. Send them something that will spur a conversation or articles on a topic they shared. If you share a similar interest, send them something along those lines to connect on a more personal level. Pay it forward by sharing any resources you may have that they'd find valuable. They'll appreciate your consideration of their needs and may reward you in the future.
When the opportunity presents its self, try to land a follow up interview or coffee meet up. Be sure to share info and connections to those you connected with at the event. Keep up with your peers and send them relevant helpful articles that might advance their job search. Meet up from time to time for a networking mastermind session. Spend time brainstorming and helping each other, even after you have landed a job.
Social media has become increasingly more important over the past decade, and will continue to dominate the online networking world. Keep up with all the people you meet from networking events on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can learn more about them personally and professionally through social media and can remain fresh in their minds because they can see your updates and pictures frequently.
Social Media is also important for meeting people and prospective employers. With social media, you can research and find influential players in a company, and make connections to start building a history that you can use later when you prepare for meeting in person. Similarly, headhunters and employers can search for people like you and, if you sculpt your social media profiles well, find you based on your keywords and professional qualifications.
Be weary of what you post to your profiles though. Change the privacy settings so that potential employers cannot see anything you would find embarrassing, as it could cost you an offer in the future.
Read more about Networking Through Social Media.
When using conventions and job fairs to network, be sure to do your research. Find out who's going to be there, what their company does, and decide who you would like to meet and what you want to accomplish by going to these events. There's not enough time in the day to meet everyone and attend every event, so make a schedule and try your best to stick to it.
Make the most of your time and don't waste it. These opportunities don't come around every day. Mingle and make as many good connections as you can. Talk to people you are interested in and be courteous in dismissing yourself from those who are not.
Be genuine, ask good questions, and get people talking. Hand out business cards and accept them. Most importantly, keep up with the connections you make at these events, maintain your network to keep opportunities open, and have fun!