The best way to get to know someone is to communicate. Ask questions. Listen intently. Make direct eye contact. Ok, sounds simple – these are common techniques, but when attending an event, mastering these skills becomes an art form – better known as networking.
Before the Event
Read the description to make sure this is an event you’d like to attend. It may seem like a simple act, but look at the schedule, find the location to plan your trip accordingly and most importantly, research the event. What is the event about? Who is attending? This will give you a good idea about what topics will be discussed throughout the event, as well as the speakers and their backgrounds.
Take business cards, not resumes.
- Write your name. If people have struggled with your name in the past, include pronunciation or your nickname in brackets.
- In place of a job title, it is fine to say you’re a student looking for “__” position.
- Don’t forget to include your contact information: phone number, email address and LinkedIn profile. Keep in mind your email address should be professional. Don’t make it your school email address. If you’re still using your elementary school nickname, create a free Gmail account – it’s worth it. If you have a website with your portfolio or a site that you created, include it.
- Make sure the information is legible and accurate. This is how they’ll remember you – make sure it represents the professionalism you tried to convey in person.
- If someone asks you for your card, ask for his or hers.
- Don’t just hand out cards. Develop some interest so they put the card in their “follow up” pocket and not in their “don’t bother” pocket (yes, some do this).
At the Event
- Be comfortable but professional. Yes, you’re trying to get a job – but you’re also trying to connect with another person.
- If you aren’t sure, ask. Don’t just agree with everything they say. Show them you’re listening by asking questions and displaying your interest in them and the position.
- If you have a name tag, place it on your right side. After shaking hands the person will notice your name. Introduce yourself verbally on top of this.
- Have a good firm handshake. Speak clearly, confidently and coherently. It’s all about the first impression!
- If there is food, help yourself, but depending on the meal, don’t make it an opportunity to network. If a company is hosting a dinner, employees might be there to enjoy themselves – the last thing they want is to be pestered for a job. Weigh the room.
- If you are right handed and have a drink, take it in your left hand, and the opposite if you are left handed. When you go to shake hands, you won’t have a damp hand.
- Listen carefully. Ask questions if you’d like to know more about something.
- Don’t make it all about you. Take this as an opportunity to learn about the other person and what they do – remember, you want a job that will fit your personality.
- Ensure they have the opportunity to ask you questions.
- You won’t be the only person there. Measure the right time to insert yourself into the conversation, and make room if someone is waiting. You want recruiters to notice your politeness and respect for others.
- If the conversation isn’t great, politely say, “Thank you, it was nice to meet you,” shake their hand and excuse yourself.
After the Event
The follow up is one of the most important parts of networking – and one many students forget about. How are you going to connect with them in the future? If you got their card, great. If they have LinkedIn, connect with them and write a quick message, i.e. “You and I met at “__” where we spoke about “__”. I loved your view on “___”. I’d like to connect with you.”
Keep in mind networking opportunities don’t just take place during events. You can research potential companies you’d like to work for or intern with and contact the head of the department and speak to them over the phone. It is more personal, and your message won’t get lost among all the emails they receive. It isn’t being too forward, it is creating your own opportunities. Some sites such as Ten Thousand Coffees allow you to get to know someone in the industry and ask for advice. (Read our previous article on Ten Thousand Coffees here.)
Regardless of the event or the individual, keep these four things in mind: 1) Why are you attending the event? 2) What do you want them to know about you? 3) Who are you going to talk to? 4) What do you want to take away?
This ends the chapter on the guide to networking. Embrace opportunities or create them yourself. Put yourself out there and start the conversation.