by Kathy Douglas
Make the most of networking opportunities at NACE 2017!
As career development professionals, we all know how to do this. We advise our students on networking at conferences, events, and career fairs all the time. So I know you know how, and the annual NACE conference is the perfect time to network with peers across the country in a super friendly atmosphere. It’s the proverbial opportunity to practice what we preach. Introverts and extroverts, thinkers and feelers, high and medium EQs alike can prep, reach out, and make the most of networking during #NACE17!
The advance planning
Reach out pre-conference on LinkedIn. I just posted a discussion in the NACE LinkedIn group asking who is going to the conference, and confirming that my travel arrangements are done! This can be a great way to get out in front of peers, and start networking well in advance. Once you have access to a list of conference attendees, you will also have the perfect excuse to connect. Update the standard LinkedIn invite: “I see you are going to NACE. I’d like to add you to my LinkedIn network, and hope to meet you there!” I did this several years ago for the New Orleans NACE, and did indeed meet up with a few individuals I had pre-connected with on LinkedIn.
Post to the NACE Community discussion board. I just tried it—will let you know how it goes! Hopefully I will hear from other conference goers, so I know who to look for in June!
Download, set up, and use the conference app. Conference apps offer some great resources and tools for streamlining social media, allowing messaging with peers, collecting session info and locations in one place, and providing real time information on session changes. Last year’s app included capability of making your own schedule, connecting with conference goers, creating your own profile, and linking to your social media accounts. Make the app part of your world for a few days, and if possible, set it up before you leave home.
Reach out to your established NACE and career services networks before the conference. If you have done MLI, RLI, career coaching, NACE blogging, committee work, or other NACE programs, reach out to peers to meet for coffee or dinner. Last year I was able to physically connect with a good half-dozen cohort colleagues from MLI, and connected with several more I didn’t have the opportunity to meet in person. Ironically, I was also able to meet current and former colleagues from my own university that I rarely see, even in New Haven. And last but not least, I made it a point to meet NACE’s Social Media and Communities Manager, Claudia Allen, in person after we had been communicating via e-mail and social media for months. I made it a point to stalk her and track her down to say hello in person!
The obvious things to do
Tweet and Instagram. Tag #NACE17. The first time Twitter made any sense to me was during #NACE11. In real time, conference goers were tweeting out take-aways from panels and recommending attendance to peers. I might have shuffled between sessions, hearing about one that sounded really great going on at the same time! It is a brilliant tool for real time communication. I used to feel a little awkward tweeting, thinking I wasn’t paying attention during programs, but have found just the opposite to be true: I listen much more carefully for take-aways to report out to the twittersphere. It’s a quick and easy way to share programs, spark conversations, recommend activities outside of the conference, and o congratulate peers. And it becomes an historical record, saved indefinitely online. Check out #NACE16 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to see what you may have missed last year!
Go where no woman or man has gone before
Don’t always travel with known colleagues during meals. There is comfort in avoiding “cafeteria angst” by meeting and sitting with people you already know, but it limits new connections and conversations. Be bold and sidle up to a few strangers at breakfast. Offer to pour someone’s coffee if you see them struggling with a plate and bowl at the breakfast bar. If you are with colleagues, split up at the table. Make the conversation light, talk about the food. Then ask a few questions about the person next to you, their institution or company and their role. Ideally they will ask you about you, too. But even if they don’t, find a follow up. “How is your recruiting going this year?” you might ask an employer rep or colleague. (Warning: Ask college sports-related questions at your own peril.)
Be curious, ask questions, then listen
We all know that people like to talk about themselves, and genuine curiosity is inviting. Try to find common ground as well as differences quickly with people you meet. And then ask more questions. Offer compliments—”I can’t imagine how you manage to provide services to 10,000 students with a staff of 23,” I might say to a colleague from a big-10 school. “How do you do it? What kind of third party resources do you use? How are you still standing?” Or you may ask anyone questions about activities outside of the conference such as: “Which zip line will you be doing this week?”
Extend the conference dialog
We’re all listening, learning, and discussing ideas, best practices, big picture themes, and new technologies over several days with fabulous keynote speakers. The topics of discussion are endless. Use the conference content for talking points. During last year’s conference, you might have asked other people what they thought about Leland Melvin’s “orbital perspective,” or Lindsay Pollak‘s comment that McKinsey is now using “young leader” to characterize new recruit cohorts rather than using the terms “millennial” or “Gen Y.” Have we come full circle?
Be generous by introducing people you know or have just met to each other
“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.”— Keith Ferrazzi, Author of Never Eat Alone
Be a facilitator at your lunch table, or at the phone charging stations. Be generous and introduce people you know to other people you have just met or colleagues from other schools. Facilitate group introductions around a table, and ask a good general question for anyone at the table. Once a conversation gets going, sit back and be an active listener.
Try this simple conversation starter
Use the fun NACE name badge ribbons as a conversation starter (and be sure to select a few for yourself!). “I see this is your first conference. How’s it going so far?” Or “I see you need coffee before speaking to anyone in the a.m. Me too. Have you had any yet?” Or, “Oh, I see you’re presenting. What’s your topic?” “What year did you do MLI, and did Manny present?” Or “I see you’re an MLI alum. What is MLI?”
Be a career services or industry researcher
Come with questions for your own research, and use them once you learn some basics from a new connection. What do you want to know to help you professionally and to improve your office? Pick a few topics that you can use over the course of the conference. You might poll several people: “Does your office have any diversity and inclusion initiatives?” “Have you felt the effects of changes in federal hiring for your population?” “How is your office structured, and what are the relationships among the career office, student affairs, admissions and other administrative units?” “Do you provide services for alumni?” “What population is your company recruiting for this fall?” “Does your office offer professional skills workshops, and if so, what are they?” “What was the best new program you did this year?”
Think about networking as relationship building
One of my favorite quotes on networking comes from Pete Leibman:
“Here’s the truth: Networking is NOT all about who you know or who knows you. Networking is all about who likes you and who respects you.”
Don’t forget to follow up
Kathy Douglas, Senior Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies