Attending an industry event, careers fair or networking event for the first time can be exciting but if you’re not careful, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and get lost in the mix. Get the most out of any networking opportunity by avoiding these common mistakes.
1. You didn’t do your research
Many people turn up to industry events and career fairs not knowing much about them. But if you don’t do your homework, you risk missing out on opportunities, says Aimee Bateman, AAT careers coach and owner of Career Cake.
‘Treat this event just as you would an interview because that’s what it is. Get a list of the companies that will be attending and research their websites. Discover what they do, how they started, who their competitors are and what products/services they are focusing on.
‘Knowledge is power and you need to equip yourself as best you can to conduct intelligent, commercial conversations. Identify who you want to engage with and what you want to achieve… and stick to it, no matter how nervous you get on the day,’ she adds.
2. You don’t make a good first impression
It is widely believed that we have approximately seven seconds to make a first impression (good or bad). You will be meeting potential employers, training providers and professionals who you hope to include in your network – so don’t turn up in jeans.
‘Wear something smart and ensure you look presentable. That goes for your persona as well as your outfit. Remember to keep a big smile on your face and look confident and approachable, even if you don’t feel confident inside,’ advises Aimee.
3. You haven’t got an elevator pitch
You know what you have to offer – but how are you going to convey that to an employer when you’re in a busy exhibition hall and have just a few minutes to impress? Aimee advises preparing and practising a one-minute ‘elevator ‘pitch that focuses on what you have to offer.
‘What are your key skills and what are the benefits you could offer a business? There will be lots of people there and you need to impress. If you can’t tell someone how great you are and how you could benefit their business, how are they ever going to know?’
4. You approach your priority people first
Whatever kind of networking event you’re attending, it pays to research and seek out the ‘door openers’ – people who could make the biggest difference to your career. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately approach the people who are your top priority.
‘I would warm up on other people before heading for the ones that you really want to talk to. Practice makes perfect so build your confidence up before heading to the ones that matter to you the most.’
5. You don’t keep a record of everything
When you’re meeting a lot of new people in a short space of time, it’s hard to remember details – like names and job titles. You don’t want to make notes while you are talking to people, but there’s no harm in finding a quiet corner and jotting things down when you can.
‘Ask for business cards and make a note of all names and conversations,’ advises Aimee. ‘For example, if you’re at a graduate careers fair, did the consultant from Hays go to the same university as you? Make notes of absolutely everything. The little things do matter and will not only help you remember them, but also help you build upon relationships in the future.’
6. You forgot to take your business cards/CV/portfolio
It may sound obvious, but a surprising number of people forget to take enough copies of their resume with them, or find they don’t have enough business cards to hand out.
‘Take a number of copies of your CV with you and insert each one into a clear plastic wallet,’ advises Aimee. ‘I’ve managed stands at these events more times than I can remember and things can get a little hectic and we don’t want any coffee stains on your CV!
‘At the end of the day, things can get thrown into boxes and packed up very quickly. You don’t want your CV to be one of the pieces of paper that gets scrunched up and disregarded just because people may be tired or in a rush.’
7. You didn’t go alone
Even if you’re attending an event with colleagues or friends, make an effort to speak to people and approach stands on your own.
‘It is much easier to build rapport if you are alone (one on one) and it also shows people that you are independent, confident and serious about your career development,’ says Aimee.
Lastly, remember to arrive early to avoid the queues and stay professional, focused and enjoy yourself!
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