Sunday, September 22, 2013

Three Reasons To Attend Conferences - Even On Your Own Dime

I’m a complete and total conference geek. Name tag proudly worn, attendance at every event/session/coffee break; yep, that’s me!

As a solopreneur (read: money for attending these comes out of my pocket – literally!), I look forward to conferences and conventions as opportunities to connect with colleagues, learn about emerging trends, and expand my skill set.

I understand not all share this enthusiasm. 

In fact, while at the National Resume Writers' Association  conference this past week, I hopped onto the elevator with my attendee tag looped proudly around my neck like it was a sparkly necklace straight from Tiffany’s. 

A gentleman in the elevator spied the name tag, rolled his eyes and asked in a blended groan/sigh,  “At a conference?” (Cue co-conspiring expression of exasperation from said gentleman who was then clearly awaiting my equally annoyed “You don’t have to tell me, brother!” eye roll).

“Yes!” I cheerfully replied.  “I LOVE conferences, don’t you?”

He looked about as perplexed and confused as if I had entered the elevator holding hands with ET.  

"NO!!!" he guffawed, as I watched fear and distrust creep into his face. Before I could respond, we arrived at his floor where he made a hasty retreat before I was able to share more maniacal rantings such as "I love to learn!" and "I really love my work".

As I continued on the elevator, I laughed to myself...but then got to thinking that this might be how some job seekers feel when I mention conferences, trainings, and conventions as important job search components. 

While I could list a dozen reasons why I love these events and why I encourage job seekers to consider them, I'll share just 3 here for your consideration.  

1. You can significantly boost your professional competencies. Continually expanding one’s skill set and keeping on top of emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities helps to position job seekers for success. Considering the cost of formal training programs, these opportunities can be wildly cost effective. The enhancement of your skill set and career marketability will be priceless.

2. You get to share with and learn from colleagues. How do others in your field handle various situations? What are the pros and cons of these options? What do others think of your ideas? Gathering this information on your own might be time-consuming and intimidating. These programs, though, are like the proverbial office water cooler, only better! Most of the time, colleagues are happy to generously share their strategies, thoughts and insights while also learning from you. You’ll walk away with new ideas that can add value to your job search campaign in the form of connections, interview material, tips, and possibly even job leads!

3. Your motivation and enthusiasm get a solid boost.  May I share a story for this one? At this recent event, the keynote speakers included Susan Whitcomb, Dr. Richard Feller, Kirsten Vernon and Heather Wieshlow. Each one of these high-profile and extremely accomplished professionals presented compelling and thought-provoking information that made me even more proud of and excited about the work I do. Work sessions presented by generous colleagues rounded out the 3-day conference. I'm now back to work feeling enthused and recharged.  For job seekers, this added boost of enthusiasm can be a differentiator as you're compared to other candidates. 

And here’s one more bonus reason:
4. Your network will expand exponentially.  If ‘working the room’ is just about your least favorite thing to do, you should know that these programs are a kinder, gentler way to begin to meet people.  At each session, you can start with just introducing yourself to the person you’re sitting next to.  Some conversation starters might be “What’s your greatest takeaway from this program up to now?”, “Do you have a favorite speaker?” or “Tell me about your work/company/client base…”.  Note: you’re not asking for a job.  This is about relationship building – the best way to network. 

In this setting, you get access to pros at all levels in your industry as you chat over coffee during breaks, exchange business cards to follow up with later, and even make some great first impressions!

In the past, I’ve received consulting work and client referrals from networking connections at events like these. And I’ve gladly made introductions and shared resources, contacts, and opportunities (networking is a two-way street – it’s most effective when when both giving and receiving).  At this week’s conference, for example, I met new colleagues whom are among the best and brightest in my field that I’ll be sure to keep in touch with, discussed a possible collaboration with another writer/coach, and made an accountability pact with yet another to support our common goal achievement.  Pretty fantastic, don’t you think?!?

As you fine tune your strategic job search and career plan, consider these events. Even though you may be investing time and resources in attending, you can leverage these opportunities to maximize your ROI (return on investment) in support of your goals.

In support of your success,

Carol Camerino, CCMC, CTTCC

Job Search Strategist and Resume Writer

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