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Formal Networking Events

Editorial Team

In this section:

Ready, Set, Network!

Mark your calendar. Seek out professional organizations that relate to your interests. Check out seminars sponsored by places like the local YWCA. Listen in on a book-reading at Barnes & Noble, Borders or a small bookseller in your area. Pay attention to campus happenings such as guest speaker engagements. The more you’re able to meet like-minded people, the more your chances of finding the lead you’re looking for increase.

Check event listings daily. Every local newspaper, many magazines, and lots of Web sites provide event listings. Make a point to check these lists often so you don’t miss out on any networking opportunities. Look for events featuring speakers in your field, general business functions, new business launch parties or anything else that interests you.

Make notes. As you collect business cards at various events, jot down notes on the back of each card to remind you of the person you’ve met and where you met them. When you arrive home from each event, review the cards and decide what your follow-up strategy will be. Who seemed to have good ideas for your search? Who offered to help you further? Who did you speak with at length? Having notes on the back of each card will help you make personal connections when you follow up with each person you met.

Passing Out the Cards

Passing out your business cards as if they’re flyers will ensure that they will be thrown away as if they’re flyers. Only pass out cards to those with whom you’ve had a meaningful conversation, and wait until the end of the exchange to give your card.This technique ensures that your card is a powerful networking tool, one that allows people to contact you in the future when they can help out your job search.

Even though professional etiquette dictates that it’s inappropriate to request a card from someone in a much higher status or position than your own, we say you often have to step out of the comfort zone to get ahead. If the mood is right feel free to ask, and couch it by saying that you’ll treat the information respectfully. Be clear that you will not share their contact information, nor will you bombard them with calls and emails. If you aren’t able to get a card, remember their name and company until you have a chance to write it down. The following day, call the company directory for the person’s title, direct line, or email address.

When networking with those who are not of a higher rank or status than yourself, be brave enough to offer your card first. You brought these cards for a reason, so use them. Have a pen and paper ready so you can jot down your new contact’s information if they don’t have cards with them.

Here are some additional strategies for using business cards as an effective networking tool:

  • Buy a nice card case, which keeps your cards clean, easy to access, and free of crumples and folds.
  • Don’t use cards from your previous positions, and don’t cross through old information with a pen. Always replace outdated cards with new ones!
  • When someone hands you a card, take a moment to read it. It’s rude to put it away without looking at it. Write down any special instructions on the back and store it somewhere safe.
  • Do not store others’ cards in the same cardholder as your own. You risk giving out valuable contacts’ cards instead of your own by mistake. Not only do you lose an important card, you look unprofessional and disorganized. Another drawback is you may think you have more of your own cards than you really do. The cardholder may seem full, but in reality it may only be full of everyone else’s cards.
  • Refill your case before all events to ensure you never run out.
  • Take any card offered to you. It never pays to be rude when networking.

What are you Going to Say?

Your résumé is ready, printed and waiting. You’re stocked with business cards. Your clothes, hair, and accessories would make Donna Karan proud. Now you need the live version of you to live up to all of your preparation. Your sales pitch is the ammunition you need to make the most of any networking opportunity.

You make a great contact at a function, you call a job prospect on the phone, or you meet a recruiter at a career fair…you need to get them interested in you – fast! In these situations you have about 30 seconds to sell yourself. If you can’t, they’ll move on. This little pitch says a whole lot about you. You’re giving someone a nutshell version of who you are and what you offer. The goal is to develop style and substance that will pique their interest enough to inspire further conversation.

Similarly, a poor pathetic pitch – one that’s delivered in a boring monotone manner and lacking any clear message – will surely result in a dead end. Not too many people will go the extra mile to draw out information about you if you aren’t willing or able to do your part.

Think of your pitch as a radio or television commercial that’s all about you. You are the product. What makes you remember a great commercial? It’s short and snappy. It makes its point quickly and cleverly and enables you to remember the product name. According to public-speaking authorities, you have 30 seconds to make your point, before your audience loses concentration. No matter how good or how interesting your pitch, 30 seconds is your limit. So sell, sell, sell! Go for it and make it work for you!

The 30-Second Solid Sell

This is an introduction to who you are and what you are looking for. Choose your words carefully – this is no time to wing it. How you represent yourself will determine if you get any further with this contact. Be short and concise, but add a specific instance to grab attention. For example, if you’ve got a chance to impress a recruiter at a career fair, this is an ideal 30-second opener:

“Hi, my name is Samantha Ward. I’m a computer science major with an art minor, and I’m really excited about combining these two interests. I’ve developed an interactive educational program to teach children how to draw. I’d love the chance to explore entry-level job opportunities with dynamic, creative software companies in the Houston area.”

If you’re at a networking event looking to make new connections, you might try something along these lines:

“I’m Lori Jones and I’m an electrical engineer with extensive experience in the aerospace industry. I’ve worked for Lockheed Martin for almost 15 years, but I’m relocating to New York City to be closer to my family. I’m exploring new arenas in which to apply my vast knowledge and capabilities.”

Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to say, get out a timer or use the second hand on your watch. Tape or record your pitch to make sure you like how it sounds or practice in front of the mirror or a video camera. Keep your chin up, smile bright and shoulders back. Dahling, you look mahvelous!

The 3-Minute Sell

Of course the goal of the 30-second spiel is to lead into a longer conversation once you’ve hooked your contact. You need to be prepared with additional, specific details about your experience and goals to keep the conversation flowing. Keep in mind the principles of the 30-second sales pitch, even in longer conversations: be concise and sell, sell, sell! Remember, this is the live, MTV-Unplugged version of the résumé you’ve worked so hard to perfect.

For your longer sales pitch, be able to identify three solid accomplishments, regardless of your career stage. Some good examples include: an extraordinary college project, a prestigious internship, supporting yourself through college, saving company money, increasing sales, launching a new division, or developing successful strategies for your employer. These are awesome coups that require practice to discuss with polish and poise.

Remember the Rule of Seven: Sales and marketing executives know that it’s rare to close a deal on the first try. The general rule is that the average prospect needs to be exposed to your sales message at least seven times before becoming a motivated buyer. Does this mean that you’ll get a job if you call a recruiter seven times? Not exactly. But it does mean that persistence pays. So remember to follow up with all job opportunities because it is likely you will not be offered a position on your first try…or your second…or your third. But ultimately persistence really does pay off.

Make Your Way Around

To join in a group conversation, walk up, listen for a few moments, and make a comment that does not change the subject.

If the person you’d like to meet is in the middle of a conversation, don’t interrupt. You’ll have a chance to speak with that person later. Once you do have their undivided attention, be cordial. No one wants to be bulldozed into giving you a job or business. If you make a hard sales pitch at a networking event where the mood is light and social, you will be perceived as needy, pushy, inexperienced, and worst of all, desperate.

At a networking event, it’s quite possible that someone will ask you, “So, what do you do?” Prepare an answer so this question doesn’t catch you off guard. More than likely, however, it will be up to you to bring up the fact that you’re searching for a job. It’s actually quite easy to broach the subject. Simply ask someone what he or she does, and often they’ll return the question and ask what you do. This is your chance to announce that you’re looking for a “new challenge”.

Politely say you’d appreciate it if they could send any contacts or potential leads your way. If they agree, exchange cards or contact information and secure a time to follow up. After you’ve handed over your card, leave the topic of job-searching. Discussing other topics will help you build a relationship with this individual and allow you to make a lasting good impression. In general, a networking conversation should last only ten minutes. You want to meet as many contacts as possible, so don’t monopolize someone’s time, and don’t allow yourself to be monopolized.

Avoid alcohol consumption. Getting tipsy is unprofessional, and you lose control of what you say and do. Be aware of your eating and drinking etiquette. Don’t stuff yourself before you go, but don’t arrive at an event famished either. Clean up after yourself, but don’t clear your own plate at a formal dinner event unless appropriate.

Don’t be the last person to leave an event, unless you’re staying to help the host clean up. Take your cue from other guests. Make sure you have talked to everyone you intended to before you leave, and say goodbye to the host, any close friends, and contacts you want to keep in touch with.

Memorization is Key

There’s no better way to convey that someone is important to you than remembering his or her name. Yet, particularly in a job search, when you’re making lots of contacts, your brain may need to work overtime to remember everyone you meet. A few time-tested tricks can help.

Always repeat the name as you’re introduced. When someone introduces herself to you, your appropriate response should be: “Hi Lara Hall. I’m Anita Smith, and it’s nice to meet you.” Try to say the first name a few more times in a conversation, and definitely repeat it as you’re wrapping up. If it’s a difficult name, don’t be shy about asking how to spell it or even about its origin.

Association is a key tool in memorization. Do you know someone else with the same name as a person you just met? Is there a characteristic of the person you can identify with their name? Some examples include short Sally, long-haired Harriet, or Jane who drinks a lot of juice. Try to form a picture in your mind of the person, a defining trait (gorgeous gray hair, dazzling green eyes, or long, lovely nails) and envision their name over the image

It Doesn’t Stop There

So you made some great new contacts at last night’s networking party. Follow up, already! If you want to receive calls or emails, then you have to send some.

Secure follow-up instructions right away. When you first meet a contact or apply for a position, mention when you will contact them next. Write in your cover letter when you will call to check-in. Tell people you have just met when they can expect to hear from you. Ask interviewers when you can reach them.

Take any leads a networking contact gives you. Say your friend gives you a lead for a job you’re overqualified for that doesn’t pay enough. Call the job lead anyway. Your friend might find out if you didn’t and think you don’t appreciate her help. She may think you’re not taking her leads seriously, or that you are no longer job searching, which could result in her not giving you leads anymore. Just because you aren’t impressed with one job lead doesn’t mean you won’t be impressed with the next. Make sure you get the next one.

Contact anyone who serves as a reference for you. Whether you are offered the position or not, if you want to use them as a reference again you need to keep them informed of your job search status.

Follow through. Take action and follow through on all suggestions offered by contacts. Keep in touch and offer updates on how they have helped you.

Respond quickly, the sooner the better. If someone emails or calls, respond to the message the same day you receive it. When you meet someone new, call the next day. If you went to an interview, send a thank-you letter within 24 hours, and include instructions as to when you will follow up on the phone.