As many job seekers have often heard, it's all about who you know. When it comes to finding a job, your industry connections can often prove to be as important as the practical skills and work experience you have, if not more so.
College students, career changers and other newcomers to their chosen field can and should use networking events and job fairs to meet key industry players who could put them on the path to employment. Kevin Roach, a recruiting expert and business professor at Texas A&M University, and Lisa Burton, a career coordinator at the Texas A&M Career Center, offered seven tips for job seekers to make the most of their time at these events.
Do your homework. Networking events may have dozens of company recruiters in attendance. 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. [How to Land Your Dream Job]
"Research those companies so that your comments and questions are informed," Roach said. "You have to be directional. Don't walk into the room without a plan."
Find a connection. Keep in mind that these events are social settings, not formal interviews. It's not just about collecting business cards and handing out résumés; it's about making conversation with people and finding connections so they remember you later. Find out what you have in common and chat about your lives and backgrounds.
Tell your stories. One great way to brand yourself as a worthy hire during networking events is to tell stories. Pick three good stories from your life, personal or work-related, and share what you learned from the experiences, Roach said. A good story can illustrate multiple positive aspects about you as a person and as a potential employee.
"When a student is having trouble landing a job, it's rarely because of their GPA," Burton added. "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."
Make it about them. Take the focus of the conversation off you for a while and put it on the recruiters. People like talking about themselves, so when you shift the focus onto them, they'll walk away with a great impression of you because you allowed them to share their own stories. Ask them what they like most about working for their company, or how they find work-life balance during their company's busy time of the year.
Don't linger. 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. Make the connection, be memorable, and then wrap it up. Tell the recruiter that you're interested in what the firm has to offer, and ask for a business card and if you can give him or her your résumé.
Take a break. A day of networking can be exhausting, so take breaks in between talks with recruiters. Step away and sit down so you can recharge and go over your notes before you move on to the next one.
Write thank-you notes. Within 24 hours of the event, write a thank-you note to each recruiter you met. Be sure to reference any specific points or connections you made during your conversations with them so they remember who you are.
"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," Roach said. That's showing them you're interested and the ball is in their court."
Originally published on Business News Daily.