If you need a compilation of tried and tested tips for successful networking at careers expos or other events, where there are opportunities to meet face to face with employers and other personnel in your field then read on.
People hire people and so are the route to employment and other opportunities. This is far from profound but is often overlooked. Connecting with people to establish an early relationship with them and to gain insights into specific career fields will definitely help – and this is what happens when you network. Remember – many positions are never advertised or may be earmarked for people who are already known to the organization through their networking efforts. So learn to network or potentially be at a disadvantage.
If you are prepared to do the work, and apply the advice provided below, success will follow.
Before the Event
Write down your reasons for attending e.g. to practice your networking skills, learn about potential careers and opportunities, e.g. meet new people and/or specific individuals, have specific questions answered.
Review the guest list if available and highlight the names of people you want to meet.
Create a 10 second self-introduction. Link it to the event so others understand why you are there. Hello…(make eye contact, smile, shake hands firmly)…my name is….how are you?… I’m studying at Vic towards a degree in… I’m hoping to get into… and I’m here this evening to…
Have 3 or 4 questions ready to get a conversation started. Avoid questions that can be answered with a simple Yes or No; ask open questions like… Can you tell me about your role at…? Is there an ideal background in terms of qualifications, and experience for that kind of work (or the work that new recruits do?)? What do you like most/least about your role? At a management or strategic level what are some the challenges the company (or the sector) faces?
Prepare to ‘listen’ and ‘be interested’. Your priority must be to genuinely engage with others so ’be in the moment’. Don’t let your personal agenda, e.g. finding a job take over.
Read up on topics that may interest others attending but use a light touch and humour…people don’t want a lecture.
Dress appropriately. Typically tidy or smart casual depending on the event, and comfortable, clean shoes; avoid bringing cumbersome articles as you’ll be moving around, juggling brochures and refreshments and trying to appear professional.
Go with the intention of having fun. People want to be with positive people.
During the Event
Turn off the technology. No mobiles, IPODs or BlackBerrys. You are there to meet new people, gather information and have a good time.
Be early…. arriving late may mean having to break into established conversations.
Maintain positive body language. Head up and shoulders back. Look confident.
Allow yourself the right to leave after you’ve talked to five people. This is achievable. By the time you’ve talked to five people, you may want to stay longer. Greet people you know but prioritise spending time with people you don’t.
Just smile and say ‘Hi’ or ‘Hello’. It’s simple and natural and it works.
Take the initiative to go up to people and introduce yourself. Use your 10-second introduction. Approach the person standing alone; most people appreciate someone else coming up to them and starting the conversation!
You shouldn’t have to ‘queue’ to talk to people. If people are talking together it’s approach them and hover for a moment – they will quickly become aware of you. Quickly introduce yourself and say may I join you?
Get comfortable with a firm handshake. Shake hands when first meeting the person and again when leaving. Make eye contact and smile at the same time.
Look directly at the person you are talking with especially if this is your first meeting. Give them your complete attention. This means using active listening skills. Avoid interrupting a person while they are talking but if unavoidable, apologise for doing so.
Use the person’s name frequently when first introduced…this is a good memory trick. If you meet someone whose name you have forgotten, simply apologize and ask to be reminded of their name or simply introduce yourself first… they will probably respond with their name.
Ask open-ended questions that encourage others to talk, and ask questions that are likely to draw out information that will help you. Don’t let your own agenda have priority over establishing a relationship. Ask questions that pursue the other person’s line of thought.
Keep the conversation relatively light, avoid getting bogged down with one topic. Small talk is not ‘trivial’ through it we learn about common interests, experiences and contacts.
Listen, listen, listen. Listen 3 times as much as you talk.
Ask for a business card and have a pen and notebook handy to take discrete notes. Record the names, job titles and employing organisations of people you speak with plus key points discussed.
Avoid monopolising one person. If others wish to join the conversation acknowledge their presence and if appropriate introduce yourself and the other person and briefly explain the topic under discussion. Other people joining the conversation can also provide the opportunity to politely end the conversation and move on.
Thank the person for their advice and time… and finish with…‘It was good meeting you and I hope we have the chance to talk again.
After the Event
Review your collection of business cards and notes. Make a note of anything else that will help you remember individuals and what you talked about. Also note the date and name of the function at which you met.
Mentally replay the function and think about what you’ll do differently at your next networking opportunity.
Send follow-up emails to individuals if this is appropriate.
Follow up with a Vic Careers Team Member if there are issues to discuss.
Image by Chris Potter (Flickr)