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Job Fairs & Business Expos – Are they great for career development or just a place to stock up on pens and coffee mugs?

August 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Do your research in advance

Get the most current list of attendees and spend time on LinkedIn, Google, Twitter, Facebook, their websites, et al, to be as informed as possible in advance of meeting them. Take note of information regarding their industry, products or services, guiding principles, mission statements, careers, etc. In this day and age, there is simply no excuse for going into these events without significant business intelligence regarding the occupants of each booth.

Assemble your “package”

Have adequate professional copies of your resume. Consider having business cards (you can get some free at www.vistaprint.com, or print your own with card stock) to trade with contacts. Use a briefcase or portfolio to carry your career “paperwork.” If appropriate, have samples of your work to share, letters of recommendation, perhaps even a list of references. Be sure you have adequate materials to take notes and record impressions. Also, dress and comport yourself conservatively and professionally. If you do so, you are likely to stand out from the crowd. Treat each interaction with every individual as an opportunity to impress them. Don’t be aggressive, however, just be polished.

Plan your attack

Based on the list of companies or organizations you have gathered, identify your key targets for making contact. Upon arrival, note any changes or additions to the attendees and adjust your activity accordingly. Plans are useful, but be open for a serendipitous meeting as well. I have a client who secured very useful information on a company not from their representative (no one was there at the time) but from a former co-worker who was packing up the company display in a nearby booth and happened to know someone who had worked at the target company. Now THAT’s serendipity!

Make a great first impression all day

You are constantly making a first impression, even as you round the corner to saunter down the next aisle. Don’t forget it. Always make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, ask intelligent questions, etc. Every person you meet, pass by, network or interview with is getting an impression of you as a employee, a peer, a customer, or a resource. Make sure it’s a good one.

Follow up

Tap into that wealth of information you have gleaned from the business cards you’ve gathered and the copious notes you’ve taken to send a personalized follow up email or handwritten note to everyone you meet. The best time for them think of you again is within 24 hours of when they first met you. If you’re on LinkedIn, seek them out and request a connection. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get on LinkedIn! If they are online themselves, investigate their groups and connections to expand your personal network. Be sure your follow up to them references your interaction in a professional yet personal way (after all, that’s why you took notes, right?!).

Finally, continue to nurture build on these new contacts to increase your visibility and create opportunities for success.

“Reverse Networking” – Is it REALLY Who You Know?

A cartoon I have in my files shows two forlorn individuals dressed in tattered business suits walking down the street. One turns to the other and opines, “I think it IS who you know . . . and I know YOU!”

Although networking is always a key topic in unearthing the “hidden job market,” precious few of us really enjoy the process very much. We do, however, grudgingly admit that it must be done if we want to avoid too much time working our “to-do” lists or watching daytime television and reenter the world of work.

I have discussed at some length WHY networking is important and even provided some guidance on WHAT to do with that precious contact when you land it. Seeking information, advice and referral is the key to developing longer-term, mutually productive relationships that are likely to provide you with opportunities.

Now it’s time to discuss HOW to make this magic happen. And, at the same time, to suggest a counter-intuitive technique to increase your opportunities, something I like to call “Reverse Networking.” What is this, you may ask? Before I answer that question, let’s talk a bit more about the WHY behind such a back-to-front technique.

Some time ago I read an extraordinary book, Working Identity by Dr. Herminia Ibarra. She cited a somewhat obscure reference to a 1973 research project by a sociology graduate student, Mark Granovetter, who discovered that most of the jobs discovered by networkers (people seeking contact), came from individuals with whom they had very infrequent contact. Granovetter called this “the strength of weak ties.” The numbers are staggering: of people finding work through personal contact, 17% found jobs through people they knew well (strong ties), 55% found their new positions through individuals they did not know as well (weak ties) and 28% were successful through contacts that they barely knew or had contact with (weakest ties). This means that over 8 of 10 opportunities came from people that they would not typically consider! Granovetter also found that these people often found better positions for more money.

Ibarra’s chapter titled “Shifting Connections” talks about this phenomenon as being critical in career change. If we continue to connect with people who know us well, we get caught up in “blinds” and “binds,” keeping us away from new experiences and opportunities. I have found that this is also true in the employment search process in general. If you continually run in the same circles, you will keep running into the same folks, the same ideas, with little opportunity for Serendipity, surprising and exciting opportunities that seem to come out of seemingly inconsequential events. This is what Dr. Richard Wiseman, author of The Luck Factor, talks about when he says that “lucky” people not only maximize chance opportunities, they create them!

How does this relate to networking in general, and “Reverse Networking” specifically? We typically think of networking from the center out, starting with people we know well, are comfortable with, know of us and about us and network out in concentric circles to the outer fringes of our contacts. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, by the way. However, I suggest adding Reverse Networking to your repertoire as well. The “reverse” theme implies just what it says – let’s start from the outside and work our way in to the middle!

Sounds good, eh? There is a potential glitch in the plan, however: To quote one my clients when faced with this concept, “If all of the good leads are in these ‘weak ties,’ how do you find these people?”

A great question! Well, I think I may have found them for you! Who has not seen you in a long time? Your list could include: old neighbors, former coworkers, high school and college teachers, college roommates, distant relatives, former bosses, acquaintances from service groups, associations, or places of worship, etc. If you have not spoken to someone in some time and that person is likely to remember who you are, there’s where you can start.

One more word of warning, however. If you aren’t well versed in the science of networking (that is, seeking information-advice-referral, not job leads), DON’T CALL ANYONE! Be sure you know how to connect with people positively and effectively, establishing solid, active contacts for collaboration and insight. Otherwise, you will soon find your email in spam and your calls blocked (and rightfully so!).

Please allow me to add one more insight:  Remember that your “weaker ties” have “weaker ties” of their own!

Dizzying, isn’t it?