Q: I have been told to network at different professional events. I don’t know where to find these events. Beyond that, I am nervous about what to do. How does one actually “network” at these events? Please give me very basic rules. I have no idea what people mean when they say I should “network” at professional events to find a job.
A: Network, network, network — it’s our mantra to job seekers. We encourage, preach and cajole job seekers to network and then network some more! You are right though – we don’t share enough on the specifics!
Here is my best list of networking events for job seekers:
- Alumni associations which connect you with others from his or her school (undergraduate or graduate). Often, at these events, you will see friendly faces.
- Professional associations which link you with others within your profession (HR, finance, IT, etc.). A common profession is easy to talk about with other attendees.
- Trade associations which are professional groups within your industry (biotech, higher education, etc.). Often these attendees know of companies hiring or expanding.
- Events which specifically target job seekers. Acton Networkers – www.actonnetworkers.org is a very active group.
- Meetup groups (www.meetup.com) connect people with common interests, from salsa dancing to meditation. There are also meetups for technology job seekers or those who want to learn more about interview prep.
How to prepare yourself for such an event:
- Print business cards and make sure that they are simple and easy to read. Include a quick phrase which describes your career interests (e.g. “controller with public accounting experience.”) A phone number and email should also be included. I think a LinkedIn URL is also helpful.
- Dress appropriately. Spiffy business casual is what I suggest.
- Research the event. Arrive on time. The fewer surprises the better. No one likes to circle searching for a parking space. Understand the format in advance. Have your 1-2 minute elevator pitch ready.
- If it is a larger gathering (20 or more attendees), don’t try to shake every hand in the room. It is better to leave with 3 to 5 new contacts who are most relevant to your search.
- Follow-up after the event. If you met a few people who could be beneficial to your search, ask to meet them for coffee. Or at least connect on LinkedIn.
- Be gracious. Always email a quick note of thanks to anyone who meets with you.
With each event, you will gain more confidence.