I spent the last 3 days in Boston at a national convention for higher education administrators. Overall, it cost me about $400 (including my registration fees, hotel room, gas and food). While this may seem like a lot of money for a poor graduate student, it was one of the best things I have done for myself both personally and professionally.
While I am by no means an expert, I did come away with some tips on attending a professional conference. Here is a list of 6 things I learned:
1. Make business cards. If you have the funds, go to Kinkos and have some made. You can order about 200 for $20. I decided to be a little crafty and make my own. I downloaded a template from the Internet, purchased business card paper from Staples and printed out about 50. I put my name, the name of my degree and my important contact information. At the end of a conversation, simply hand the person your business card and ask for theirs.
- At this conference, some attendees used Minglesticks. I had never heard of this before, but it is pretty cool. According to their website “The MingleStick: A small, inexpensive key-chain device that allows people to exchange identity information with a simple click of a button.”
- Feel free to introduce yourself to the people sitting next to you. You never know who you might meet! I made a great connection this way
3. Ask someone who has been there before what to expect. I had a lot of questions about what to wear, how many resumes to bring and how to introduce myself to someone. I met with a few career counselors and asked a few colleagues what to expect. They had some great advice and helped me feel less nervous.
4. Don’t feel like you have to go to EVERY session. While I did learn a lot at some sessions, I think my time was best spent meeting up with former colleagues, grabbing drinks (no more than 2) with new networking contacts and going to social events. Here is when the real networking occurs. People asked me about my job search, gave me advice and suggested people for me to get in touch with.
- I learned that professionals use conferences to recharge their batteries. It helps remind them that there is a bigger professional world beyond their office. You shouldn’t feel burnt out by going to a conference. It should remind you why you are in your chosen field and motivate you to become a better professional upon your return to work.
5. Do not underestimate the power of your alumni network! I was amazed by how many people came up to me to talk about the University of Delaware. There was even a special social for attendees who attended or worked at UD.
6. Stay organized. Before I left the conference, I wrote an action plan. I made a list of all the people I met with and all the job opportunities I heard about. Within the next week, I am going email and thank all the contacts that I made.
When I am a full-time professional next year, I want to to go to at least one conference a year. I left feeling energized and excited about entering my chosen field. Attending a conference will help me stay grounded in my profession and avoid burnout.
Sara is graduating from the University of Delaware with a Master of Arts in College Counseling in Higher Education this May. She has worked in many functional areas of higher education including career services, admissions, orientation and development. Her ultimate goal would be to work in career services or admissions at a college or university. Connect with Sara on Twitter or Linkedin.