When it comes to connecting your university education to the real world and attempting to get your “foot in the door” of the professional world, there is no better way than developing personal connections. In that case, let’s talk networking! I don’t mean linking our Mac systems and installing the newest version of OS X, I’m talking about interpersonal relationships and social capital!
There are many ways to build professional relationships such as LinkedIn (highly recommended!), through established relationships (family, friends, or even professors), and professional networking events (meeting with working professionals). We are going to take a deeper look at networking events, and see how we can all benefit from these social hours!
Whether we have attended a job fair or not, most of us are pretty familiar with how to prepare and present ourselves during these events. Let’s take a look at how networking events are both similar and different from job fairs!
At a job fair, one must be prepared with their “A” game. It’s really all about you, and why the organization could benefit from having you on their team. Formal presentation is the name of the game, and you better be prepared with business professional attire, completed résumés within a note-taking pad folio, thorough research of the specific companies you plan to visit, prepared questions, and a polished “elevator speech.” The focus of a job fair is truly more focused on the applicant, and how your skills and abilities can add value to the organization. When it comes to networking at a job fair, you will have the opportunity to meet professionals within an organization, however, it is more often than not that they will be recruiters from the Human Resources department.
The focus of a networking event is on the professionals who are attending. This is where it differs from a job fair. In some instances, preparation may have some similarities such as attire and research, but other than that, there really are no strict guidelines on how these events are conducted. Your research, however, will be more focused on the individual rather than their organization. You will be preparing questions such as “How did you get to the position you are at now?”, or “What are skills you possess that assist you in completing your duties?” Questions like these will give you insight about the individual, and, in turn, provide a learning opportunity for you to apply to your personal career goals. Networking events are more conversational than they are professional talk. The idea is that you have the opportunity to explore many different aspects of being a professional as well as make promising connections. It may not seem like it, but in many instances, it is more promising to produce leads on jobs and internships from networking events than job fairs! This is because most professionals who attend these events genuinely want to provide you with information that will help you be successful after graduation. They will be there to answer questions, and also give you inside advice on where to look for opportunities and how to get involved within their field.
Now that we have done a comparison between the two, let’s take a look at how we can best prepare ourselves for a networking event.
Before the Event:
- Still plan what you can say about yourself when asked (elevator speech).
- Year in school, major, clubs and activities, etc.
- Research the attending professionals (LinkedIn is the best tool for this).
- Focus on the individual, but also have knowledge of where they work and what they do. (good conversation starter)
- Prepare questions (keep on a small pocket notebook).
- Be remembered at the event as the one who asked amazing questions vs. the one who stood in the corner!
- Make simple personal business cards for yourself.
- This is an important step, because there needs to be a way to connect and follow up after the event.
During the Event:
- Be engaged and have fun! (take light notes, actively listen, ask questions, and most importantly be your genuine self).
- Easy and simple step.
After the Event:
- Recap the event, and review notes (this makes it easy to follow up with new connections).
- Send out thank you notes to all professionals that you mingled with (this can either be done through email, handwritten mail, or even through a message on LinkedIn).
For more information on how to prepare for a networking event, stop in to Career & Internship Services (SCC 22) and ask a Peer Educator!