How to get the most out of careers networking events
“This careers event will be followed by a networking session” - quite possibly the most dreaded words we can see on advertising brochures for careers events. How do we approach employers? How do we introduce ourselves and start a conversation? And is there anything they really hate and we should avoid?
Here at UofG, we are extremely lucky to have a whole range of careers events with some of them catered specifically to PGRs. Rob wrote a very handy guide of some of the available UofG careers events , and the Careers Service has an excellent website with details on all the upcoming events organised by them, as well as careers related advice.
But you’ve not had a chance to set up an appointment with a careers adviser, and you really want to make a good impression at the next event you’re attending - oh dear, is it really tomorrow morning?!! So now you’ve got a few hours to prepare, and you really want to come home with a few business cards from possible contacts and find a few potential companies to apply to.
OK, relax (I know, I know, it’s easy to say and really hard to do). Here’s a few tips on what you can do before and during the careers event to have a successful networking session. Some I have personally found helpful, such as bringing a friend if you’re nervous or chatting during lunch. Others are suggestions from the Careers Service that I never would have thought of to be honest, like trying to gain some contacts among fellow students. I’ve also asked industry representatives what they like and don’t like to hear during networking events - turns out their biggest pet peeve really is being asked what their job and what their company does.
It should come without saying, but you really need to research the companies attending the event. Employers and careers representatives hate nothing more than being asked something along the lines of “so what does your company do?”. Check their website, read some of their recent press releases and prepare some relevant, more in-depth questions.
Bring along a few copies of your CV - not only does it makes you look more professional, giving your CV to an employer you would really like to apply to in the future might make them remember you better. If you need help with writing your CV and making it really stand out, you can set up an appointment with the Careers Service to work on it.
A few company representatives I chatted to during careers events said that putting the name of the person you spoke to at the event helps your application, so get their business cards and keep hold of them!
Make sure you look professional. This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but wearing your old dirty gym gear will probably not help you very much. Dressing smart casual is usually the best idea, but make sure you check if the event you are attending specifies a different dress code.
If the event provides a free lunch, take advantage of the lunch queue to strike up conversation. Juggling a conversation with a potential employer AND a plate full of sandwiches and cookies might sound like a terrible idea, but everyone is in the same boat. Plus, this could be your chance to talk to an representative by yourself or in a smaller group than during the main event.
Don’t just talk to company representatives, try and make some contacts among the organisers and your fellow students as well. Not only could they be your company contacts in the future, I usually find that talking to someone who is in the same job-hunting boat as I am eases of my nerves about approaching employers and striking up a conversation with them.
If after the event there are alcoholic drinks being served, try to drink only a little or not at all until you’ve chatted to the employers you were really interested in. Alcohol might help with your nerves for a bit, but too much can easily turn your networking into a mini-disaster. Remember, you are trying to make a good impression and take steps towards getting a good job - alcohol will always be available.
Finally, if you’re like me and the simple thought of approaching someone and starting a conversation terrifies the life out of you, bring someone along. You can both go talk to the same employer, and it’s much easier to carry on a conversation once it’s been started. Just make sure you get to ask your questions as well, and they don’t take over the whole conversation.
Have you attended any careers networking events lately? How did you find them, and what are your best tips for making a good impression and getting the most out of networking? Let us know in the comments or tweet us at @UofG_PGRblog.