As a student, you’re likely familiar with networking events. College fairs, and open houses play a large role in the decision process for many students. And as a working professional, you network on a daily basis. Job fairs, conferences, professional development opportunities, and other work-related events are important to advancing your career.
At networking events, you are among some of your best and brightest contemporaries, and you don’t want to get lost in the crowd. Maintaining a professional image, staying charismatic and outgoing, and being prepared will help speakers and presenters set you apart from the numerous faces they encounter that day. Check out these tips to stand out from the crowd.
1.) Do your homework
As with a job interview, having a thorough knowledge of the event will prepare you for what to expect and help you set goals. What do you want to get out of the event? Find out:
• Who’s sponsoring the event?
• What is the overarching “theme”?
• Who are the speakers? Know as much about them as possible.
• What panels, sessions, or workshops does the event feature?
• Who’s the target audience? How do you fit into that audience?
2.) Have a game plan
Are you looking for a job connection? Information about a degree program? Create a game plan so you know exactly how to get the most of the event.
• Know the schedule. Which speakers are relevant to you? Which sessions are you most interested in? Create your own schedule based on which parts of the event align with your goals.
• Know the venue. Don’t waste time wandering. Grab a floor plan. Research the venue beforehand. Mapping your path through the event optimizes your time, and arriving promptly to each session conveys professionalism.
• Know who to connect with. Who’s speaking? Which universities or companies have representatives there? When standing out from the crowd, have your own target audience. Know exactly who you want to reach out to, and make a point of getting in front of them.
3.) Come prepared
One of the best ways to stand out is to literally leave people with something to remember you by. Making connections is a common goal of most networking events, and maintaining those connections is equally important.
• Bring multiple copies of your resume and cover letter
• Bring business cards
• Bring a notebook
• Bring a portfolio to highlight your best work. This can be artistic or academic, showcasing visual examples or writing samples.
• Have talking points in mind. When somebody asks you about yourself, what are the most important things to mention?
4.) Dress to impress
Networking events can be just as transformative for your career as job interviews. Approach them with the same commitment to excellence. Dress to impress. Professional attire that you feel your best in makes others take notice.
5.) Ask questions
Asking questions makes presenters, recruiters, or representatives engage with you. Your questions should be relevant, thought-provoking, and intuitive. It helps to come with a list of questions prepared.
Don’t ask run-of-the-mill questions like “what are your MBA program offerings?” Be creative. Ask questions that mean something to you. “How can your MBA prepare someone with a background in child care and early childhood education for potential career opportunities?”
6.) Engage and socialize
Leave people with a memorable first impression. Asking questions is a great start, but go above and beyond in engaging with new connections.
• Turn each encounter into a conversation
• Ask questions they have to think about
• Step out of your comfort zone. Introduce yourself to people. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion on a topic or provide your own insight.
• Make friends! You can learn a lot from fellow attendees. Connect with other job seekers or potential students.
7.) Follow up
It’s always recommended to follow up with an email or a handwritten note after a job interview, and we recommend the same for a networking event. Some important people to reach out to include:
• The organizer of the event. Thank them for putting the event together, and see if you can be kept in the loop for future events.
• Speakers you connected with. Thank them for taking the time to present, and reiterate how much you learned from them. See when they will be speaking again.
• Organization representatives. Whether they are from a company or a university, thank them for speaking with you, and ask for any information you did not receive at the event. Send them follow-ups they may have asked for (a resume or additional information).
• New friends. Connect with the friends you made on LinkedIn, and explore opportunities for keeping in touch.
There are networking events for virtually everything: professional development, career opportunities, and more. While the number of attendees can vary—from several dozen to several thousand—there will always be a crowd of like-minded individuals. You should always think of new and appropriate ways to stand out from the crowd and make people remember you. Remember, it’s not a competition: it’s a professional challenge!