by Christina Wilson, Head Editor, INALJ Alberta
Career Management Tip: Plan to Attend a Conference
Library conference season is upon us! Whether employed or not, attending a library conference offers many opportunities for career management, from meeting senior hiring managers in other spheres through gathering information about targeted organizations to expanding your own personal network. The University of Alberta School of Library and Information Science recognises this by offering a one credit course in “Socialization and Trendspotting”, which encourages student to attend the provincial library association conference (http://preview.tinyurl.com/cln3lch).
Getting the most out of the conference is a skillful undertaking; as important when seeking employment as it was when you were employed. Consider yourself a free agent, plan your experience, practise networking skills and follow up after the conference. Conferences can be overwhelming and so the following outline is offered to bring focus and purpose to your conference experience.
Create an Action Plan:
- When registering, sign up for receptions, keynotes and ice-breakers, in addition to sessions. It’s easily done in advance as most library conferences pre-post their schedules. “First Timer”, “Vendor” and “Welcome” Receptions are important networking opportunities, so even if you’re shy, plan to attend and practise the art of networking conversations.
- Work out a succinct statement or a short way to describe your situation, if asked. Briefly state where you work/ed, what you do/did and what you’re planning to do. Preparing for these introductory questions will help you be more assured, comfortable and confident.
- Attend keynote talks. They provide speaking points, valuable as conversation starters to create networking opportunities.
- Create a conference schedule (either print or online) to stay organised and avoid carrying around the often bulky conference program. Make time on your schedule to visit the vendor floor. Not only will you pick up valuable information on initiatives of potential workplaces from the vendors, but you’ll also colleagues, in discussion with vendors. I find these exchanges to be the best learning opportunities.
- Set up some pre-event networking through social media outlets such as LinkedIn and Facebook. They can be casual, with the goal of meeting online acquaintances at coffee, a session or the first timer’s reception. Not only is this a networking encounter but it guarantees that you’ll know at least one person when you walk into the session or event.
Pack for Success:
- If actively job seeking, bring appropriate, professional wear. I recommend “business casual” at least as you’ll be encountering future employers, even if currently employed.
- Comfort is paramount though, so wear layers and your most comfortable shoes. Conference days are long, the venues tend to sprawl, so prepare for a lot of walking and standing around. Some of your most productive encounters may occur in food lineups, standing in the vendor hall or leaning up against a wall. I’ve found that the best sessions are usually standing room only.
- If presenting, convening, accepting or attending upscale events, more dressy is more appropriate (tie, suit, dress, skirt). Other delegates will vary the attire theme in keeping with their own motivation for attending the conference, but you must stay focused on your own goals and consider professional dress norms.
Your Brand is You:
- Don’t just bring business cards, carry them with you. I keep a stash behind my conference badge for ease of access. Even in this day and age of digital devices, business cards are still requested.
- They’re useful in helping you remember your contacts, but, more importantly, helping them remember you! Write something meaningful on the back of your card, to help the recipient recall you. Similarly, if you’ve promised to follow up on some area, write a tickler on their card, to remind to follow up accurately and promptly, after the conference.
- Consider creating your own “free agent” business cards. Virtual cards can be exchanged using IPhone’s Bump app (for Androids, too). LinkedIn’s Munchcard manages business cards.
Image is Everything:
- Take photos of the event, the host venue, keynotes and even, with their permission, the people you meet.
- If someone is out of business cards, or on their last one photograph it! At a recent IT conference, I met a delegate who photographed business cards, rather than gather them, then sent along his own details electronically.
- Conference photos add colour and interest when you share the experience with others. They’re also useful when following up with contacts and recalling events afterwards.
- This is one of the best ways to build a valuable network at any phase of your career, whether new or many years along.
- It doesn’t matter what you do, just do it. If you’re a student, it gives you something to put on your resume other than just attending a conference. You can volunteer at the exhibit booth for your alma mater, for a professional association, a greeter, a session convenor, a resume reviewer or a greeter.
- Most conferences need bloggers to cover presentations which can help you build your reputation and hone your journalism skills. Even Virtual Conferences need volunteers to moderate webcasts, proof webpages and even give tours in Second Life!
- This is a great way to learn a new skill, join a team and gain recognition for being reliable and supportive. It could lead to a reference or even a lead from a conference committee colleague, even the Chair.
Post Conference Follow Up:
- After the conference, share your experience with others and follow up with those you have met.
- Review your business cards, fulfill any promised actions and add your new contacts to your newly expanded network. This includes reaching out via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
- Keep up with their blogging activities and ensure that you include them in yours.
- More and more conference websites post their own “tips” to improve delegates’ conference experience. This is a worthwhile section to review and also to comment on, after the fact.
In developing this post, I owe a debt to the following sites, recommended for more good advice for attending conferences:
Conference Tips for Students and New Professionals, written by one: http://clagov.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/tips-for-students/
Stephen Abram’s Conference Tips is thorough and wide-ranging: http://stephenslighthouse.com/2006/05/30/conference-tips/
Erin Dorney’s Blog, includes a further list and some helpful comments: http://erindorney.com/2010/03/01/conference-advice/