Registration fees, travel hassle, mediocre food… there is certainly no shortage of reasons NOT to attend your industry’s next conference. But by skipping out, you could be doing significant damage to both your short- and long-term career prospects.
Why? If you’re serious about your career, you should take advantage of every opportunity to improve your marketability to potential employers and build yourself into the strongest candidate and employee you can be. And professional development conferences are one of the most powerful tools in your self-marketing arsenal.
Don’t let minor annoyances hinder your career. Instead, take advantage of your next industry conference and reap the rewards:
1. Bolster Your Network. This is your chance to mingle with the best and brightest in your field. Check out the latest progress from industry innovators, engage with like-minded people and trade ideas, and of course, keep an eye on what your competitors are up to and what your customers are asking for. At conferences, you have the opportunity to make connections with successful people in positions of influence. And the best part is that these people are there in hopes of making connections with you, too! Whether you’re actively looking for a new job right now or are making a longer-term effort to build a strong network of contacts for the future, industry conferences are a great place to expand your circle.
2. Accelerate Learning. Industry conferences are a hotbed of interesting seminars and workshops – attend as many conference events as will fit in your schedule and absorb as much as you can. By taking it all in, you’ll make yourself more marketable to prospective employers and customers alike. Take the opportunity to ask questions of presenters and get to know them personally, and if your conference is offering career advice, take advantage of it! For example, I’ll be featured at the Career Pavilion of the upcoming ASIS 2012 International Conference in Philadelphia this September and will host information-packed “mini sessions” to help attendees put their best professional foot forward. If your next conference offers similar opportunities, sign up! How often do you get free career advice from the professionals who know best?
3. Catch Up With Trends. Attending conferences is a great way to stay on the cutting edge. After all, this is often where leading companies will debut new products or present sneak previews of upcoming developments. Talk to vendors and check out the new products for yourself, and take the time to really learn what’s on the horizon. That way, the next time you’re in an interview – or just conversing with someone who may be influential – you’ll come off as knowledgeable, passionate, and in-the-know.
4. Get Inspired. With so many successful members of your industry present, chances are good that you could bump into your next mentor or role model at a conference. When you meet someone you admire, ask them how they got where they are and what lessons they learned along the way. Are there ways that you can apply what they’ve learned to your own career? And of course, if you’re actively seeking a new career opportunity, mention it to the people you meet and pass out your business card. You never know – your next business partner or boss might be just around the corner.
5. Be Your Best Self. Industry conferences tend to be more casual than other career development or job-search activities, and you can use this to your advantage. Instead of hustling around a job fair or sweating through an interview, take the time to really enjoy yourself and get to know the people around you. More importantly, let them get to know you. We’re all at our best when we’re relaxed and being ourselves, and this is exactly the type of atmosphere that most conferences try to cultivate. As a result, establishing contacts at a conference is a great way to make strong impressions and forge lasting connections with people who could one day have significant impact on your career.
Remember, you are in control of your career – don’t let the opportunities at your next industry conference pass you by. Instead, make a commitment to yourself to get the most out of your next conference experience and follow through on that commitment. You might just be amazed at the results.