Build a strategy to maximize the benefits of every networking opportunity.
Throughout my time at TheLadders, I’ve written many articles and given presentations explaining the importance of networking to boost your career and job-search efforts. Whether you love it or hate it, networking has become an integral part of the job-search process.
What I’ve realized is that, while many people are jumping on the networking bandwagon, few actually approach networking – or more specifically, networking events – with a strategy that is sure to move the needle towards their goals. Merely showing up to an event won’t guarantee results, and how you prepare for and follow up after an event is just as important as what you do when you’re there.
Below are five tips to help you make the most of each networking event you attend.
1. Have a game plan
If possible, review the event agenda ahead of time so you can research the speakers and determine which activities or presentations you want to attend. Prepare a few questions ahead of time so you remember to ask them. If there is a list of RSVPs, look to see if you know anyone and reach out ahead of time, or invite some of your friends or colleagues who would be interested.
Give yourself a goal, such as meeting and exchanging contact information with at least three new people, learning one new tip that you can put into practice immediately, or getting a presenter’s opinion on a topic you’ve been struggling with. If you’re more introverted, this is your chance to stretch out of your comfort zone.
2. Prepare your materials
Depending on the event, it may be appropriate to bring copies of your resume in a portfolio or folder. Make any necessary tweaks to your resume so that it clearly communicates your job goals and qualifications.
Practice your elevator pitch, keeping in mind the audience you expect to see at the event. For instance, evaluate when you can use industry-specific jargon to talk about your work, and when it makes sense to speak in broader strokes. Here are some creative ways to tell someone about yourself.
Come armed with more business cards than you think you’ll need. If you’re currently unemployed or searching on the sly, I highly recommend creating business cards that use your personal contact information. You can get a nice set from companies like GoPrint for less than fifty bucks.
Clean up your online presence so your personal accounts are hidden from the public and your professional accounts are aligned with your resume and job goals. You don’t want new contacts getting mixed signals when they go to connect with you online.
3. Dress the part
Different networking events call for different attire. Find out what the expectation is so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb at the event. Take a look at this guide on dressing for every event so you make the right first impression. If you’re unsure if the event is business formal or business casual, bring the tie or suit jacket with you – you can always stow them away in your portfolio or purse if they’re unnecessary. If you’re planning attend presentations, bring a pad and pen, or your iPad, to take notes on the fly.
4. Work the room
Enter the event with energy and confidence, even if you have to fake it. Remember your game plan and goals for the event – take a look at the agenda to see if any changes have been made and map out your activities. Strike up conversations with the person next to you while you wait in line or between presentations. You never know – that person’s best friend’s husband could be the key to your job search. Not sure where to start? Take this networking quiz to get prepared.
5. Follow up
The business card in your pocket is worthless if you don’t follow up and nurture the relationship with your new contact. Send a short but personal follow-up email or a LinkedIn connection request 1-2 business days after you meet. Reference where and how you met, and include a personal detail or two to jog the person’s memory.
Ideally, you want to leave the event with a call-to-action for each person you’ve met so you can reference this in your follow-up and continue the conversation. Also, look for ways to pay it forward. When building relationships, you often have to give before you get.
Remember, events can be a great way to expand your network of contacts, improve your industry knowledge and skills sets, and uncover hidden job leads. If you properly prepare for each event and continue to build relationships with those you meet, you’ll be golden. Click on the following link for more information on networking.
Amanda Augustine is the Job Search Expert for TheLadders. She provides job search and career guidance for professionals looking to make their next career move. Have a question for Amanda? Submit your question here for a chance to have it answered in her weekly column, and be sure to follow her at @JobSearchAmanda on Twitter and “Like” her on Facebook for up-to-the-minute job-search advice.