Career Corner: Strategic planning for professional conferences

Going to a professional conference or career fair for the first time can make anyone stressed. It’s similar to going to a party but having no idea who to talk to, what to say or how to act.

Preparation can be your best friend in the process. Start by creating a short hit list of potential companies, employers and professionals that you wish to interact with during the event. This approach will help you stay organized and focus, while giving you a networking goal.

Preparing your professional documents for these events is important, and I suggest printing out copies of your resume on high-quality paper. If you are attending a career fair and know the open positions the companies are hiring for, then you should create personalized cover letters for each position that interests you. Think of it this way: going to a career fair without a resume or cover letter is like the “Jersey Shore” cast trying to answer questions at a paleontology conference; chances are, neither party is ready to handle the challenges of their environment.

You should also prepare by working on handshake techniques and creating a 30-second “commercial,” a short speech you can confidently give to summarize your experiences, interests and skills to the employer.
As you probably already know, first impressions are crucial because we only get one attempt at them. That’s why working on those introductions can play a crucial role in networking. Giving a bad handshake or wearing unprofessional clothing can make employers skeptical about hiring you, no matter how well you answer their questions later on.

Another tip for the event is to keep the business cards you are giving out in your right pocket and the ones you are receiving in your left pocket. This strategy helps to avoid confusion and it would be advantageous to write a short sentence or two on the nature of the conversation with the individual you exchanged business cards with. The purpose behind this tactic is that conference attendees interact with so many individuals during these events and having something specific to include in a follow-up email or LinkedIn request will help refresh that professional’s memory.

A conference or career fair is a great way to interact and network with professionals, share experiences and put you in position for potential opportunities — as long as you’re prepared, confident and know how to best tackle the experience.

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