Going to a professional conference for the first time can be intimidating. First you have to register for the event, get hotel accommodations, and then catch a plane to the city that the conference is being held in. That alone is daunting. It is not like going on vacation with family or going to see Aunt Hattie in Phoenix for a week. Aunt Hattie would be thrilled to see you and she won’t mind if you wear jeans and a Batman t-shirt.
No, traveling for a conference is a whole new ballgame that you have to learn the rules for. It takes time to prepare if you want a positive outcome. You will need to do much more than just register for the event. If you have a step-by-step plan you are more likely to have a good experience and you may even come away with a job connection.
Get your outfit together. Attending professional conferences requires that you look professional. Figure out whether you need to take a trip to Macy’s or The Men’s Warehouse before you leave. If you are wondering about what to wear take a look at my article Slobs Don’t Get Jobs.
Read the agenda carefully and develop a plan of attack. At professional conferences a number of events happen simultaneously. It is like a three ring circus. You have to choose between competing seminars, workshops, and speakers. They also include career fairs and job mixers. Develop your schedule ahead of time so you get a seat in the most popular events and so that you get to the companies you most want to connect with.
Decide your purpose in attending the conference. Usually you will have multiple reasons. Conferences are designed to motivate members towards professional involvement and career development. They promote leadership, organization, career focus, and image development. Some of the most important reasons center on making contacts for careers and internships.
Conferences provide you with opportunities for:
Prepare a business card, a resume, and a portfolio (optional) if you are really serious. Vistaprint is a printing company that sells business cards at the best prices. You can design your card right online where all you have to do is fill in the blanks. Example of what to include on a student/job seeker business business card:
BS, Electrical Engineering (May 2014)
- Power Distribution
- AC/DC Generation
- Alternative Energy
firstname.lastname@example.org / 916.555.1212
Study the list of companies and organizations attending. Research companies that interest you before the event!!!
Example: Hi, my name is____. I am majoring in_____ or (for experienced candidates) my background is in_______. I researched your company on-line and I am really interested in your company. Then hand them your resume or your business card so they can contact you later. Speak slowly and deliberately.
These companies are looking for talent to run their companies in the future. They want to attract the best candidates at the earliest possible stage. Companies are highly motivated to hire interns so they can look them over and cultivate them. They are also looking to fill career positions with candidates within 6 to 10 months of graduation.
Be prepared to connect casually but not too casually. Conferences provide opportunities to dine and have "drinks" with employed professionals. Do not drink alcohol under any circumstances! You cannot afford to get sloppy!
Ask questions and learn about the possibilities! Ask-open ended questions:
- What types of career possibilities are there for CE (BME, CM, CPE, CS, ME, MET) in your company?
- What type of training programs do you have?
- What types of projects does your company work on?
- What kinds of projects might I expect to work on in an internship or in my first years with your company? What kind of growth might I expect?
- What is a typical day like?
- What makes someone successful in your company?
- What do you like best about your field/company?
- What advice would you give a person seeking work in your industry?
- Can you give me the names of anyone else I should talk with given my interests? (You will have to identify your interests at this point).
- May I have your business card? (For future contact).
Lastly, have fun!