This post first appeared on Career Attraction, advice from experts that gets results.
Take a moment and try to remember your first networking event. For some it was a local Chamber of Commerce meeting or maybe it was that one event where they had awesome trade show giveaways.
For me it was a very congested college career fair and for the time being I want you to focus on the experience more than the specific event.
You walked into a room full of people dressed in their best suits. The smell of leather briefcases and under arm portfolios filling the air. You look down at your paper resumes (which are starting to show hand prints from your nervous, sweaty palms) and start to panic.
You look around and see professionals shaking hands and patting each other on the back like they’ve known each other for years, and then it hits you.
You know no one, and have no idea what you’re doing there. Fear starts to take over and fight or flight is in full swing.
You look around at the myriad of booths wondering what to do next.
Do you walk up to any one you want?
Is there a sign up list?
What do you talk about?
How do you impress them?
These are common questions (and fears) for anyone starting out in the professional world or attending their first networking event.
Below I outline my 6 step process for standing out before, during, and after a career fair.
Why Would They Want To Hire You?
Self-doubt like this is quite common when attending networking or recruiting events. And I’m not ashamed to say that I too once felt that same way. Luckily there is an easy way to make sure that feeling never happens again.
You may not like it though because it requires some hard work up front. But if you use this strategy when you can. And never give up. I promise you will be successful.
The concept is simple, the strategy is easy, but the implementation is where most fail.
The way to stand out from the crowd when job hunting at networking and recruiting events is to control exactly what recruiters and potential employers see when they do their own research about you online.
The offline part is what I would consider common knowledge; dress in a suit, be well groomed, smile, stand up straight, make eye contact, etc. The list goes on and on.
But, in today’s job market, that will not help you stand out from the crowd.
What will is having a professional brand online that you can direct employers to while controlling 100% of what they see.
I’ve laid out my step by step process for doing this so that you not only stand out from the crowd, but are known as an expert in your field.
Step #1: Research, Research, Research
The first step is to do your due diligence and research.
Before ever stepping foot at the networking event you want to know what industries are represented, what companies are present, and what people are attending.
There are various ways to find this information. A simple search through the event website will likely yield the results you’re looking for. After all the companies had to register beforehand to attend.
Worst case scenario, they have a list of past attendees and booth exhibitors. This will give you a good idea of the industries and companies that will be present at the event.
Step #2: Narrow It Down To Your Top 5 Prospects
Now that you know what companies will be present, your next step is to narrow your focus on the top 5 prospects (or so) for jobs. This serves two purposes.
First of all why would you want to talk to every company in the first place?
Many of them may not be in your desired industry, or may not be your ideal candidate. You’d be wasting your [valuable] time focusing on the masses.
Second, it allows you to allocate your time appropriately. It will be all but impossible to talk with every attendee and company anyways. That is not your goal.
Your focus should be on quality, not quantity.
Step #3: Reach Out To Them
If you haven’t already found this information, you want to find out who will be attending the event and specifically what people will be present that you can have a face to face meeting with.
The simplest way to do this is to call up the company and ask.
It’s unlikely they will be hesitant to give this information. Especially since it will be common knowledge soon. This shouldn’t take too long since you’ve already already narrowed your search down to 5 (or so) companies.
By the way, this opens up the opportunity to set up an appointment with the exhibitor during the event. Nothing sets you up for success like a scheduled meeting with the company.
Step #4: Prepare Your Expertise
This is where the magic happens. This is how you will really stand out from the crowd.
Now that you’ve done your research and know who will be attending the event, you’ll want to take the information you learned about them, their company, and their industry to prepare a few carefully crafted documents.
One for each company you’re targeting.
What you do is take one interesting and unique topic that your research uncovered and write a short 1-2 page article about that topic. It doesn’t have to be much, 500-800 words is more than enough.
In this article you’ll highlight your expertise in the industry as well as your thought leadership. But more specifically how it relates to that company and interesting topic you uncovered.
In case you’re wondering what to write about, there are a variety of topics you can cover that you’re likely to find in your research.
1. News events
2. Mergers & Acquisitions
3. New products
4. New hires
5. New trends in the industry
6. A recent, major industry event
The most important aspect is to make it personalized.
As a best practice I recommend writing these article all at once and getting as much as possible on “paper”. I know when I open the flood gates my great ideas flow much easier. I then revisit them a day or two later (if I have the time) and edit as I see appropriate.
This delay helps give a new perspective and always improves the articles.
Even better I like to have someone else read it because they are a second pair of eyes to catch any grammar or punctuation mistakes. I consider myself an adequate writer, but no one is perfect.
Step #5: Post Online
If you already have a professional blog, and it’s appropriate for the industries and companies you’re targeting, you are more than welcome to post the articles there.
Next, and this is key, you take the URL of each article and shorten the URL using goo.gl or your favorite URL Shortener that has analytic’s capabilities. This is so you can track how many views that article gets.
Step #6: Set The Stage
The last step is done during the networking event or career fair. Without being arrogant, bring up the topic of your article for that company.
“Chris, I heard about Ron joining your organization as the new Chief Sales Officer. He was really successful over at XYZ Corp. A change like that is pretty news worthy in your industry. I recently wrote an article about it online.
Hey, you stay in pretty good touch with the industry pulse, I’d love to get your feedback. When I get to my computer again I’ll send you the link. Let me know what you think and we can go from there.”
If you didn’t give it to them on a business card, email the shortened link to them when you get back to your computer.
In a day or so check the URL analytics to see if there have been any views. If there has been then you can “randomly” follow up and ask if they had a chance to check it out and what they thought.
What is great is that this strategy can be used for any type of professional situation.
You can use it at any networking event, on job interviews, at trade shows, when meeting with old colleagues and especially with clients and prospects.
A Real World Example
I recently used this very same technique with a prospect I had been working on.
I had called and emailed a few times without having much luck. I was finally able to get him on the phone where we discussed his current software set up.
Before we finished our conversation I brought up the topic of his website (research). He uses high quality videos to showcase various properties he manages around town. It was really unique and I complimented him on it (set the stage).
I mentioned that through my own site I advocate using videos in the exact same manner he does for professional branding.
And although I thought the conversation was about to end, he gladly talked longer about his video marketing campaign. In the end he directed me to the appropriate person within his organization, I thanked him, and we ended the conversation.
What I did next was write a handwritten letter, mentioned an article I had written (which was optimize specifically for him) and included the goo.gl URL on the back of my business card.
Guess what happened next? When I called the directed person a few days later, I was warmly greeted and he knew exactly who I was.
Even though I had never talked with him. My original prospect obviously had read my article and shared it with this new contact. As you can imagine that conversation went very well.
I hope I’ve shown how this strategy works in any circumstances whether you are looking for a job or prospecting for new clients. And with some up front preparation you can exponentially increase your success rate.
~ Johnny Bravo
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net