To succeed at professional networking events is to use your time wisely. It’s a fallacy to think that the loudest person—or the one who is otherwise getting the most attention—is automatically the most successful person. Instead, the wise thing to do is to make an impression on the right contacts, not necessarily the most contacts. But how do you accomplish this at an event filled with people, all with their own strengths?
Tips for standing out at professional networking events
Just like you, potential employers want to use their time economically. In order to make the most of your conversation before they begin to lose interest, you have to be able to understand what they need and how you can fill their voids in a timely fashion. Before the event, be sure to know not only what sort of jobs would be fulfilling to you, but also your general strengths. In other words, know how you could help someone else. This way you can allow some room for opportunities you may not have even considered. You might just surprise yourself.
At the same time, being able to know whether something isn’t the right fit is just as valuable as the opposite. Don’t waste time courting an opportunity that doesn’t interest you or won’t leverage your best skills.
Know who is attending the event in advance
If possible, ask the organizers (usually your school’s career office) for a list of attendees in advance of the event. Even if you only have a day or two to prepare, your research will show in the small amount of time you have to impress potential employers.
But rather than simply memorize facts, take the time to consider how you’d fit in the company environment. More importantly, make a list of questions you have regarding culture, room for promotion, and other benefits that are important to you, such as the chance to travel or start a 401k.
While it’s important to connect with someone on a personal level, once that happens you should let the other person do most of the talking. By spending more of your time listening, you’re demonstrating that you’re not just there to talk about yourself and that you’re taking their businesses seriously. This should go without saying, but even if you’re listening in a group of other people, make sure to put away your phone. Better yet, turn it off before you arrive so it doesn’t even buzz. The second someone sees you checking a text message or reacting to an alert, you’ve lost their desire to speak to you further.
If you get to the point where you’ve hit it off with a potential employer, or even if your curiosity is piqued, ask for contact information so you can follow up. It’s extremely important to do so in a timely manner, not only to be polite, but also to ensure that the person doesn’t forget you. Remember that each potential employer is meeting many people in a short period of time. A punctual message can ensure that you’re fresher in their minds than others who fail to do so.
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