Conferences offer different opportunities for different people. Executives attend to close deals, entry-level employees go to learn, and vendors hope to generate leads. However, there’s another group of people floating around the conference halls and stopping at booths: job seekers.
Armed with resumes and eager to make great impressions, these people want to walk away from the conference with a job. They have become so aggressive that some industry leaders think they distract from the actual conference. There’s a right way and a wrong way to land a job at a professional conference, and most people do it wrong.
If you want to job leads and potential offers after the next conference you attend, follow these steps. You can advance your career goals without frustrating attendees around you.
Know What You Want to Get Out of the Conference
If you want this conference to be a success, then you have to know what you’re getting into. It’s unlikely that you will walk away with a full job offer in hand.
Alex Schulte is actually one of the success stories out there, who landed her dream career at a networking event. She admits that she had attended past events thinking “I have to land a job tonight,” but always came up short.
Instead, she set goals for herself to network with other people and spend the night learning about the types of jobs and companies out there. Rather than hoping others would help her, she focused on their needs. This increased the number of people who wanted to talk to her and were excited to form connections.
Determine Your Next Career Steps
Along with setting goals for the conference, figure out what you want out of your career. You can’t expect people to help you if you don’t know what you want.
Joss Godbold, regional director at PageGroup, cautions candidates from being overly flexible when meeting with people. Some people immediately lead with “I will do anything and work anywhere,” which doesn’t help the candidate or recruiter. It just shows that you’re desperate to get hired or leave your job.
If you take a job anywhere, you could be miserable within a few months. Instead, focus on what you want. You want to take a step up in your career, not play an endless game of Chutes and Ladders.
Set Yourself Up for Success Before You Go
Before the event, set aside time to look for possible connections you can tap into and make it easy for potential employers to reach out to you or follow up after you meet.
You Don’t Need to Carry Your Resume With You
The years of carrying stacks of resumes are over. Modern technology has made it easier for people to connect and learn about each other without flimsy sheets of paper.
For example, software developer Sneha Rajana, who landed her first job at a Grace Hopper Conference, submitted her resume and updated her profile online before attending. Professionals looking to hire or set up interviews could learn about her before she even arrived. Plus, with all of her information in the system, she didn’t need to try to hand out her resume wherever she went.
Most conferences have apps or interfaces you can use to buff up your profile to the best of your ability.Career strategy coach Joanne Meehl gives two strong reasons why you should never bring your resume to a networking meeting unless you’re specifically meeting with a recruiter or potential employer:
Bringing a resume means the focus is on them helping you. Instead of networking and forming a mutual professional bond, you come off as begging for help and a career boost.
If you bring your resume, then that’s where the focus will be. Whether the person you’re meeting with asks about your past or offers tips to improve the resume in hand, the discussion will be that one sheet of paper instead of a variety of topics that could help you form a bond.
Instead, if the meeting goes well and there is a potential for a job interview, offer to send your resume after the conference. This will also give you content to include in your follow-up email.
Connect With Attendees Personally Through Referrals
Along with submitting your resume online and tweaking your social channels, look for people you can easily connect with. Ask friends and colleagues for introductions or referrals.
“Referrals are easily the most effective way to secure a job interview and land the offer,” writes Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture. He shares some interesting statistics on referrals in the job search:
Almost 40 percent of hires come from referrals.
Referrals get hired in three weeks on average; it takes cold applicants more than twice that time.
Referrals tend to get paid more.
Instead of walking up to someone at a conference and hoping to make a connection, you can already have one with a referral, and start the conversation off on a deeper level.
Practice Casual Conversation
Most career experts will tell you that the best networking happens at the bar or dinner, which is great news for some but terrifying for others.
Even the most qualified candidates can freeze at the idea of approaching strangers, Nicole Tinson, co-founder of JobsR4You, writes. However, talking to people is a skill that can be developed long before you reach the conference hall. It just takes practice.
“When I was trying to figure out if I wanted 2% or 1% milk in my local grocery store and someone was near me, I talked to them,” Tinson says. “Even when I waited in line at the gas station to pay the clerk, I talked to whoever would listen. Breaking out of your shell and speaking to anyone can truly open up unknown doors.”
This isn’t to say that your next job will come at the gas pumps, but it can give you the confidence to approach people in a professional setting.
Learn How to Answer the Hard Questions
Along with practicing casual conversation, make sure you know how to address awkward questions if they do arise. For example, many candidates struggle to network when they’re unemployed because they don’t know how to talk about it.
“No employer wants to sit through a one-man show about why you were unemployed,” Sarah Sipek writes at CareerBuilder. “Address the employment gap with a one-to-two sentence response and then transition into how you have been preparing yourself for this job opportunity.”
Sipek emphasizes that candidates should be honest about their work history, but should also be concise. There’s no reason to drag the issue your unemployment out.
Look for Opportunities to Set Up One-On-Ones
If you can’t get the quality of conversation you want at a social event, consider asking the person you want to network with if they have breakfast plans or time to meet for coffee. This creates an opportunity for one-on-one conversation away from the crowds.
Kerry Hannon, author of Love Your Job, says job seekers should make room in their schedule for informal meetings. You don’t have to pack every minute of the event with talks, socials, and other activities. Plus, if someone does want to set up an interview, you will have open windows in your day.
Don’t Enjoy the Social Events Too Much
Once you feel comfortable talking to people around you, the next step is reeling it in so you don’t overdo it at social events. Conferences often have free mixers where wine and other spirits are flowing. This has tripped up many conference attendees who don’t appreciate the drinks in moderation.
“At the social events, remember that you are still interacting with professional colleagues,” Cecilia Sánchez, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia, tells Science Magazine. “Don't start telling overly personal stories or drink beyond your limits.”
While don’t want to be remembered as the person who made a fool of themselves at the bar, conferences are great opportunities to show a little of your personality.
Tatiana Milcent, an associate manager at PubWorX, encourages people to balance professionalism with character. This is a rare opportunity for employers to get to know you in a way formal interviews don’t allow. You can comfortably tell stories and talk about your interests without trying to get hired.
If you’re interesting, then people will be more likely to remember you when you ask about a job or interview.
Be Prepared for an Informal Interview
The best case scenario for conference networking is an informal interview. You might get coffee or have a quick meeting in the lobby of a hotel before you resume your activities. Knowing what you’re getting into can prepare you to stand out.
What Is an Informal Interview?
Sometimes employers hold informal interviews when they see something in a possible connection, but aren’t sure how to use them.
“One common reason an employer will opt for an informal interview is that they're still formulating the exact structure of the job,” Alison Doyle, CEO of Career Tool Belt, writes. “By meeting with a wide variety of candidates, without a specific job description, employers can flesh out the exact responsibilities and expectations for the role.”
The people you’re speaking to might know they need to fill a gap and know that you have certain skills, but not know how they work together. Once again, this is why the focus is on networking. Once that person knows what they want, you can top the list of candidates and skip the cold call process.
Informal Interviews Lead to Formal Introductions
An informal interview is often like a first date, the team at JobUnlocker writes. The person you’re meeting with wants to make sure they’re making a smart choice before bringing you into the office and asking others to meet with you.
Instead of trying desperately to get hired during this one meeting, do focus on your skills but make everything more conversational. Not only will this make the encounter less awkward, it will make you stress less over “landing a job” in a 20-minute coffee meet-up.
And if you’re uncertain about the format of an arranged coffee interview, make sure to ask. Check to see if there’s anything your connection wants to focus on or needs to see from you, Claire Millard, HR professional and career coach, advises. They might want references or a portfolio, for instance, or could leave it open-ended for you to put together your own resources.
You can also research their company and position before you go into the meeting. This will also make the conversation more natural, as you can share your ideas for the company instead of listening to them explain it to you.
Dating Rules Apply to Conference Networking
If you cling to one person through the event or keep checking in as soon as the conference is over, you’re likely to scare away any prospects. Dating rules apply to professional networking.
“When a job seeker calls or emails me 14 times (after I’ve said I’d be in touch with her just as soon as I have any news), she brands herself as a non-appealing candidate,” Jenny Foss, founder of JobJenny, writes. “You will do nothing but ruin your shot (and brand yourself as desperate) by doing a full court press on the decision makers.”
There’s a difference between following up and stalking potential employers. They will smell your desperation and wonder why you’re struggling so much to find work.
A little jealousy is a good thing, Isaiah Hankel, Ph.D. writes. The Cheeky Scientist founder says that even if your dream company is attending the conference, don’t stick to their booth and follow their people around. Talk to everyone and keep an open mind. Not only will this help you gain exposure (and potential job offers), it also puts the ball in your court.
When Hankel started talking to other companies at a conference, representatives got jealous. And what started as a vague promise to talk turned into an interview with the president of a company later that week.
Even if you don’t walk away with a job offer, you will leave the conference with strong connections and having made a good impression in the minds of the people you met. This can help you in the future, even if the return isn’t immediate.
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