Hey, Job Seeker, Spring Means Conference Season. Are You Prepared?

Students and/or job seekers need to keep active with professional development by attending national and regional conferences. Below are tips I have developed over the years that will lead to conference-going ease and success.

Plan Your Time, But Remain Flexible
Most conferences will list the schedule online several weeks in advance. Take a look through this and begin planning your time before the conference begins. Since there will be much going on during the actual conference, it's good to have an idea beforehand of the sessions you would like to attend. That said, remain flexible. If you strike up a good conversation, or are asked to help out with a different session, consider changing your plans. Successfully experiencing a conference is equal parts learning and networking. So get involved, mingle, and be present.

Look Professional
Whether you are wearing a suit or not, it is important to look work place appropriate. This is not the time to wear leggings and that new tunic you just bought from The Gap. Err on the conservative side of dress. This doesn't mean that you can't express your unique personality, but keep it classy.

Bring Business Cards
If you are currently employed, bring your business cards. If you are not employed, create your own card. There are many websites that will offer cheap or free business card printing (i.e., www.vistaprint.com/). If you are a GSLIS student, you can get a discount on printing Simmons College business cards. Bring at least twenty cards for each day and hand them out freely.

For those creating your own cards, keep the information succinct. Include your name and an appropriate business email address. Rather than a job title, put your areas of interest or skills; for example, "Information Professional and Web Master." Also, include your professional website and/or LinkedIn profile Url. You may also include a QR code so savvy consumers can directly scan your contact information to their smart phone. There are many QR code generators to choose from (i.e., http://myappmag.com/free-qr-code-generators/), so find the one that best fits your needs.

Annotate Business Cards You Receive
As you receive other attendees' cards, be sure to jot down a few notes on the back. Include details such as the workshop in which you met and what you talked about. Also, use a virtual organizer like LinkedIn's CardMunch, in which users can take a picture of the card, upload an image to the app and smart phone, and provide annotations about the card below. You will meet many people throughout the day, so do not rely on memory alone.

Bring Copies of Your Resume
Have your resume freshly printed and ready to go, but don't offer one unless someone specifically asks. Effectively marketing yourself is a fine line between touting your skills and remaining socially appropriate. Don't be too eager, but be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

Move Out of Your Comfort Zone
Greet people you know, but make a point of socializing with those you don't. Have lunch with a friend, but join a table of new people. As stated above, one of the biggest benefits of conferences is networking. Even for those not seeking jobs, introduce yourself to at least one person a day. It might be nervewracking at first, but as business cards are traded, you will be glad you did.

Have your LinkedIn Profile Updated
Maintaining an updated Web presence is essential, especially when you are handing out your contact information. Ideally people will Google you after the conference, and you will want to be as professionally prepared virtually as you were in person.

Volunteer for Events
When I was living in Boston and attended the Florida Library Association Conference (because I knew I would eventually be job hunting in Florida), I signed up to volunteer as a "greeter" to attendees who entered the vendors' room. This allowed me to be social in a regulated way. I had a specific job and was able to interact with fellow conference goers. As a side note, if you plan to relocate, I strongly recommend attending that area's regional conference. Being "the woman from Boston," when I attended the Florida conference, was a great icebreaker!

Next Time, Present!
While it is nice to sit back and be a spectator, I get the most out of conferences that I am contributing to, in some form or another. Presenting is a wonderful icebreaker when you meet new people, and it allows you to add a new entry to your resume.

Tweet and Engage Virtually
Just as important as it is to participate physically, spend some time contributing to the online forum as well. Many conferences will have their own hashtag, and if this is not clearly featured, then ask the conference committee or fellow conference goers for it. Being active on Twitter will promote your brand as someone who is tech savvy and engaged in the field. Tweeting will also allow you to connect with professionals who couldn't physically attend the conference, but would still like to be part of the conversation.

Keep Conference Notes
It is important to reflect upon the day, so each night when you have some time to yourself, jot down your notes in a conference journal. Include whom you met, what you thought about the various sessions, and how you might do something differently the next time.

Now That You Are Home, Follow Up
Though the conference has ended, you still have work to do. Keep in touch with attendees via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. Take advantage of the notes you wrote on the backs of business cards. Send notes to people you met, along with articles about topics you discussed. As information professionals, sharing information is always welcome!

More Reading on Conference Survival and Career Information:

ALA Conference Survival Tips -- 35 Conferences Later:

Maximizing the Conference Experience:

My First ALA! Advice Tips and Tricks:

Simmons LIS Career Guide:

Article by Cheryl Kohen '06LS, emerging technology librarian at Daytona State College in Florida. Kohen was the career resource librarian at Simmons College.

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