How to get a job during a conferenceNov 03, 2022
Panels, keynote speakers, catered lunch, too much (or too little) air conditioning.
Conferences are staples across every industry – and could be the doorway to your next job.
Whether you are in the arts, tech, business, or charity world, conferences give you a chance to meet with your partners, competitors, and everyone in between.
There are inspiring speeches to learn from, busy networking rooms to mingle in, and exciting breakout rooms to engage in.
Conferences are great because you can strengthen or build relationships. You can learn new strategies to improve your team. You can invite collaboration to do better by yours and the company next door. You can also market yourself as the person who is exactly what companies are looking for to grow their mission.
In three easy steps.
Prepare before you get there
You need to know what is going on at the conference and what you want out of it. This means you must do a number of things besides showing up.
Review the agenda and research the speakers
The agenda is your lifeline for the conference. It will tell you who is speaking in what panel, and where they can be found. Conferences are all about networking so make sure you know who you will be talking to and what you will be talking about.
Research as many speakers as you can. Learn their work history, what they will be speaking about, and ultimately, if you want to see their session in the first place. Conferences can take the energy out of you so don’t over exert yourself trying to go to everything they have to offer. Instead, pick key sessions that you know are related to your work and go all-in.
Think of key questions and anecdotes you want to share with speakers or during sessions ahead of time. Talk about successful projects from their past. Ask about future initiatives and industry trends. Be curious and let people know you are keen on learning and can offer your expertise too.
The best way to be prepared for this is to know the agenda inside and out. Know who will be there. Know where you’re supposed to be.
Make conference goals
When you’re finished reviewing the agenda and the speakers, it’s time to make your conference goals.
One broad goal of “getting a job” is not enough. Instead, make goals that will be incremental to that achievement such as:
- Setting up a coffee date with a professional you admire
- Introducing yourself to every professional you want to meet
- Asking a question during a live session so you are memorable to speakers and guests
These are just jumping points, but they all do the same thing: get you one step closer to the person or company you want to work with.
Practice your introductions
Conferences are all about learning and networking. Take advantage of talking to people. Most conferences have a dedicated networking time outside of the usual lunch break. Use both of these to have intentional conversations with speakers and other attendees in industries and companies you want to work in.
You never know when you will run into someone who is directly or indirectly related to the opportunity you want. But you do know when someone will inevitably ask: “what do you do?” Make sure you have a strong and succinct answer.
If you are currently employed and are seeking a change in career, lead with your title. It’s easy to remember and people can associate with you. Then include a core responsibility, so the person you’re talking to can remember what you are capable of.
Once this is established, you can discuss what you are looking for in a new role, followed by why. Keep it professional and simple. Do not speak poorly or suggestively about your current role because that could be seen as unprofessional. You want the person you are speaking with to know you can represent your job well and that you prioritize your professional development.
If you are familiar with the person or company of the person you are speaking with, mention something impressive their team or company is working on. You can link it to something you have done in the past or express that you are interested in learning more. This will likely tell the person they will have an informed conversation with you, and could lead to more down the road.
If you are unemployed, start with your last role – paid or not – and include a core responsibility or one of your strengths so they can remember what you can offer. After that, you can speak about current projects at their company to open the door to an engaging discussion.
Make yourself memorable
People will be meeting and having many conversations, just like you. You can’t count on everyone remembering you.
Introduce yourself before the conference
Don’t be afraid to begin networking before the conference starts. Send a message a day or two before the conference to tell them you are looking forward to their session and are wishing them good luck. Telling an attendee that you see they have RSVP’d online to an event and you look forward to seeing them. Having these conversations before will help you be remembered before the conference begins and it’s just a blur of professionals in business casual attire.
Hand out business cards
Business cards may seem outside our time because so many things are handled online, but that’s what makes them impressive. Information gets lost in texts, social media profiles and notes apps. Business cards are becoming rare. Giving someone a physical reminder of who you are in addition to your social media and email will give you a step up.
Make your business card simple and aesthetically pleasing. Include your name, your title, your email, social media. You can even include a photo and your phone number if you’re comfortable.
VistaPrint lets you design and print your business cards with different finishes from glossy to rounded, plastic and matte.
Source: VistaPrint business card
Zazzle also lets you design and print your business card. You also get 20% off your first batch when you sign up for email promotions.
Source: Zazzle business cards
With Canva, you can design your business card. You can take your design to the nearest Staples or Walmart to print.
Source: Canva business card templates
Handing out business cards is not the end of the line. It’s important to emphasize what you can do so people find them useful. Someone could follow-up with you. Maybe someone will pass your information on to another person with a powerful hand. Maybe it will sit at the bottom of your tote bag.
The difference between these reactions is how you deal with the exchange. They are not doing you a favour because you are supposed to be adding your expertise and talen to your life. But you should try to get something from them too. Ask them if they have a business card you can hang on to. Tell them about your network and ask if there is anyone they would be interested in meeting. Make sure you are giving and taking during a conference. Interactions should be mutually beneficial.
Ask people about their personal interests
Conferences are about work, but don’t forget you’re talking to people. They have families, friends, and hobbies just like you. Don’t shy away from getting personal. You never know what you may bond over. Whether you have the same favourite movie or you have rival baseball teams, having something to discuss outside of the industry will make conversations more enjoyable and memorable.
Compliment people on their knowledge or achievements
Flattering can get you places, as long as you're authentic. If you actually learned a substantial amount from a speaker, tell them that. If you have a great discussion with an attendee, compliment them on their knowledge. Ask them how they learned so much about a topic. Tell them you appreciated speaking with them. These things seem small, but they signal that you retained something from your conversation and you were engaged. It also provides an opportunity for you to ask them how they got their start and became so knowledgeable. It could lead up to a follow-up conversation over email, social media, or coffee.
At the same time, find ways to remember the people you were talking with. You don’t want to mix-up conversations when you follow-up with people a week or so down the road. Make a notes app and jot down key parts of a conversation you had after each connection to stay on top of what you covered and what has yet to be discovered as you begin a new professional relationship.
Attending a virtual conference
Virtual conferences are not too different from in-person conferences, aside from the obvious difference of being able to attend from the comfort of your home.
In some cases, virtual conferences can be better. You can have more self-directed breaks. If something is unfamiliar, you can research between breaks or during sessions without withdrawing from the people around you or causing a distraction.
Prioritize virtual connections
Virtual conferences pretty much guarantee people will be glued to a screen, one way or another. Some conferences have apps to guide the agenda. Take advantage of this. Find speakers’ emails and social media information, post in public spaces, and follow hot topic conversations.
When the conference finally ends, people will be circling back to see what they missed in the hustle and bustle of the event. Conference hashtags are a great way to see who was there and join conversations. By participating in these conversations, you are putting yourself in other people’s lines of view. By following the hashtags to find people, you are seeing who is engaged, in-the-know, and who could be someone to reach out to in the future.
Invite people to connect on LinkedIn through the conference app or social media interactions. Follow up by actually doing it and sending them a message that reminds them of where they met you. Send them a link to an interesting article you may have mentioned during your conversation or something they may find interesting, based on what you discussed – whether it was work-related or not.
Reflecting on a conference
Despite everything you do during the conference hours, attending every session does not necessarily mean it will end in a job offer by the end of the day. But it does lay the groundwork for a promising foundation.
Everyone you meet is an opportunity. The project manager’s card you took could be your mentor. The team lead you shared a coffee break with could introduce you to his manager. The recruiter you shared the elevator with could refer you for a fitting job.
Your professional development plan is set in motion once the conference ends. Great conversations about open applications and work opportunities could have encouraged you on the first day, but by day three of the conference, so much more has happened.
When you go home or log off, take out your notebook to review everyone you met. Send those “it was nice to meet you” messages that include what you discussed, thanking them for their time, and perhaps even an invitation to hop on a call or meet again in person.
Don’t shy away from your next conference. Be bold in what you have to offer and the questions you have that will make you want to be better.
Companies are always looking for good talent. Make the most out of every opportunity to show them the talent is right in front of them.