The Top 4 Ways to Prepare for Face-to-Face Networking Events

The Top 4 Ways to Prepare for Face-to-Face Networking EventsWhile I have written extensively on LinkedIn networking in articles like, So, You Have a Great Connection in a Target Company, Now What?, in this three-part series I want to focus on ways you can be successful in your face-to-face networking ~ a type of networking that is sometimes overlooked or avoided by many job seekers.

For the purposes of this article series, when I speak about networking events for those looking for work, I am speaking broadly, to mean anything from job fairs and holiday parties to professional tradeshows and business-to-business networking events. You may not think about holiday parties as networking, but when you’re looking for work, any social outing is another opportunity for you to put yourself in front of someone who may have a possible employment connection.

The following tips should help you to be more comfortable and well-prepared heading into a networking event.

Set a goal or for the event. First and foremost, establish one or more goals for your upcoming event. If it’s a job fair, your goal might be to talk to six employers, or to hand out ten business cards. For other events that aren’t as structured, like a trade show, your goal might be to make a certain number of contacts, or to name a couple of specific people to whom you want to be introduced. If it’s a more informal event like a party, you may simply want to talk to five people about what you do.

To take this one step further, you should clarify which of your goals are most important, and make sure you’re accomplishing those early in the event, just in case you must leave early. The key is to gain clarity about your expectations for your face-to-face networking and to prioritize your goals to ensure you realize them. Large events like job fairs, conferences, and trade shows tend to have some structured networking time, as well as some unstructured networking time, and to capitalize on both you will need to plan ahead.

Prepare your personal commercial(s). Another important thing to prepare ahead of the event is your personal commercials. Sometimes referred to as elevator pitches, you will likely need two versions of your commercial for most face-to-face networking events—a short one, essentially a thirty-second or less networking opener, and a longer version, one minute or so in length. Your shorter commercial would include your name, what you do, and the specific types of career opportunities you’re currently seeking. The longer version of your personal commercial would be used in a structured situation like a speed networking event where you would have 5-10 minutes with each person you encounter. Personal commercials longer than one minute are not generally good tools to share as you introduce yourself to someone in unstructured networking scenarios, though you may certainly make use of their content later in the conversation.

The shorter personal commercial is less about promoting yourself and more about giving key points about who you are as a professional. Think of these as “information portals” to guide the conversation in a certain direction. If you’re in a corner with someone or are at a more structured event, you can go into more detail with the longer version of your pitch.

The key with longer elevator pitches and personal commercials is that you must weave in specific content around your achievements. Mention that you saved x amount of dollars in a function within a company, or that you have sold x number of widgets for so and so. You want to leave people with a specific impact statement. Think about answering the questions: Why should someone hire you and what will their return on investment be for hiring you? You should plant the answers to those questions in the longer version of your personal commercial. This kind of statement is often referred to as your Why-Buy-ROI—learn how to create one here.

Ultimately, the goal is to be able to present your commercial or elevator pitch fluidly, so it comes across as polished and not memorized. It doesn’t have to be the same each time you say it, but you don’t want to stumble over your words or fail to include key pieces of information. You should be comfortable including those details and shuffling them in a different order as the situation demands. For a list of key elements you might want to embed in your personal commercials, check out this blog post.

Put together your networking handouts. Another thing you’ll want to do before the networking event is to put together two items to hand out to potential employers, or key contacts.  These are not appropriate at all events, though they certainly are appropriate at job fairs. The first item you should have on hand is a business card.  You may not have ever considered using a business card as a job seeker, but this simple tool can be quite powerful and is easy to carry with you wherever you go. The card should have your social media profiles listed, especially LinkedIn, a link to your online resume, or at the very least, your name, contact details, and a summary of what sort of opportunities you’re seeking.

If you choose a double-sided card, you could print a mini commercial on the back. Or, you could opt for the type of business card that opens, and you would then have room for more content about your achievements, career pedigree, and keywords.  This would help you to stand out as a job candidate.

The second item you need to prepare in advance is a one-page networking tool. This is a document like a marketing brief (check out a sample here) that should be no longer than one page in length. In addition to providing a brief description of your background, this tool includes details about the types of positions you’re looking for, your geographical preferences, company culture, career timeline, mini bio, and select achievements. This is ideal for a situation in which you meet someone who may be hiring, so they have a bit more information about you. However, if you’re going to a barbeque or a holiday party, you probably aren’t going to go around handing out copies of this document, but it would be a good idea to keep them in your car in case someone wishes to see it.

Now that you are armed with everything you need going into a networking event, including the handouts and a well-prepared personal commercial, you’ll be interested to know what you can do when you get to the event to help you with your networking. I will cover that in the next post in this series.

If you would like even more help as you navigate the job search world, a job search coach may be of great value to you. Schedule a no-cost, no-obligation job search consultation with me if you’d like to discuss how I can help you reach your career goals.