By Aaron Sturgill
Networking is a crucial part of the job search process and should be a practice you continue into your professional career. One way for students to network with industry professionals and potential employers is through professional conferences. The first week of spring semester 2015 brought the opportunity for students in the Retail Merchandising and Fashion Product Development program to attend the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 104th annual Big Show. This year’s conference brought in 33,000 attendees from across the globe, hundreds of sessions and speakers, the Student Program and much more. As I attended sessions throughout the conference, one thing continued to stick out to me: some people lack professional etiquette and not just the students. Reverting back to a previous life where I recruited talent, I kept thinking to myself, “I would never hire them!”
How should one behave during a professional conference? Are there steadfast rules for attending a conference? What types of things would make a candidate stand out to me if I was observing them at a conference? I wouldn’t say that I am the expert on conference etiquette, but I think I have presented a list, that at minimum provides good reminders.
- Dress Professionally. Consider the conference a part of the interview process, where everyone you meet has the potential to provide you with a new opportunity. You wouldn’t go to an interview dressed in your favorite flannel, your most comfortable pair of skinny jeans and chukkas would you? For your sake I hope not, but some people took the conference as an opportunity to dress down for a few days. I looked at my peers dressed down as less professional and less qualified to do the job. Remember, you never have the chance to make a second first impression.
- Respect the Speaker. The speaker has spent time preparing to present to his or her peers, don’t disrespect them by chatting amongst yourselves. If you need to have a conversation with someone or take a call, do it outside.
- Be Prepared. Before the conference, familiarize yourself with the conference schedule and people/companies expected to attend. Bring several copies of your updated resume to give out to new contacts. Bring hundreds of your business cards. Your goal should be to make new contacts and trading business cards will allow you to follow up after the conference.
- Learn Something. Attending a conference should be an opportunity to learn more about the industry you are in or hoping to enter. Take notes during the session and ask the speakers questions, if possible.
I hope these tips are helpful as you plan your next conference trip!
“You have to create your own opportunities in this world.”
Jane Park, Founder and CEO, Julep