Networking events give job-seekers an opportunity to meet prospective employers and make an impression that could lead to employment. Recruiting expert Kevin Roach, a professor at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School, and Lisa Burton, a career coordinator at the Texas A&M Career Center, give seminars teaching college students how to "work a room," to present their best selves at networking events and land that job.
Do your homework
Networking events, such as career fairs, may have dozens of company recruiters in attendance. Roach and Burton say rather than trying to meet as many recruiters as possible, find out in advance which companies will be represented and pick the five that are most relevant to your career search. "Research those companies so that your comments and questions are informed," says Roach. "Then you can say, 'I see your company is expanding to a new area; what are your hopes for this expansion?' You have to be directional — don't walk into the room without a plan."
Find a connection
Keep in mind that networking events are social settings, not formal interviews. "It's not just about collecting business cards and handing out resumes, or impressing them with your high IQ," Burton insists. "It's about making conversation with people and finding connections so they remember you later. Find out what you have in common and feel free to chat about your lives and backgrounds."
Make it about them
Taking the focus of the conversation off of you and putting it on the recruiter can not only ease a job-seeker's nerves, it may fulfill a subconscious desire in the recruiter. "People like talking about themselves, so when you shift the focus onto them, they'll probably walk away saying 'hey, I really like that one,' not realizing it's because you allowed them to share their own stories," notes Roach. Ask them "what do you like most about working for this company?" or "your busy time of the year is coming up — how do find your work-life balance?"
Tell your stories
Networking events are about personal branding, says Roach, and one great way to brand yourself as a worthy hire is to tell stories. "Pick three good stories from your life and share what you learned from the experiences," he explains. "They can be work-related or something from your personal life. Each story should have three parts: set the stage, describe your role and give the outcome. A good story will illustrate multiple positive aspects of what is special about you."
"When a student is having trouble landing a job, it's rarely because of their GPA," adds Burton. "It comes down to their ability to make those connections with people, present themselves in the best possible light and show what makes them special."
There's no set amount of time for networking encounters, but you don't want to stay so long that the recruiter is itching to move on. "Networking is not the time to share your deepest thoughts," Roach advises. "Make the connection, be memorable and then wrap it up. 'It's been great to talk to you. I'm very interested in what your firm has to offer — do you happen to have a card? May I give you my resume?' Then a handshake and move on."
Take a break
A day of networking can be exhausting, so Burton suggests taking breaks in between talks with recruiters. "Step away and have a seat," she advises. "Recharge and go over your notes before you move on to the next one."
Write a thank-you note
That night, before you go to bed, write a thank-you note to each recruiter you met. "Hopefully, you've made a connection and can reference it in the note so the recruiter remembers who you are," says Roach. "Thank the recruiters for the opportunity to meet them, tell them you enjoyed learning about the company and that you look forward to learning even more. That's telling them you're interested and the ball is in their court."