Published: Oct. 20, 2023 By



As many students may know, job application season is in high effect. Participating in CESR’s events is already a great differentiator for starting your sustainable career search, but learning how to network effectively is also key. CESR spoke with several experts on conference networking in order to share advice with students who are planning on attending networking sessions or conferences. CESR has resources dedicated to how to start a sustainable career search. 

Types of Networking Events: Career Fairs vs Conferences

First off, it is important to distinguish between a career fair and a conference. A career fair is an event that brings together recruiters and students who are seeking jobs. An important note here is that the recruiters know that students are there to find jobs; handing out resumes and having quicker conversations is a standard practice. 

On the other hand, conferences are gatherings of professionals, researchers, and students who are all interested in a particular field. As a student at a conference, you don’t want to ask specifically for a job; it is implied by the fact that you are a student and will one day need employment. 

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"Conferences should be seen as a launching pad for the longer-term relationships that you need to succeed,"

- says  Amanda Schram, Assistant Director of Graduate Career Management at the Leeds School of Business 

What’s My Goal?

Your goal when attending a conference is to build your network of advocates. These are people who can influence decisions in the organization you want to eventually work in, and who can speak highly of your skills and personality. Instead of looking for transactional relationships, try to connect with people you find interesting. Conferences should be seen as a launching pad for the longer-term relationships that you need to succeed, according to Amanda Schram, Assistant Director of Graduate Career Management at the Leeds School of Business. Make sure you get contact information and send a follow-up message within 48 hours. You could ask to meet again and chat about something specific about their role or your conversation, or even ask them to review your resume if you’re applying to their company. When you follow up, make it as easy as possible for the professional: send calendar invites or a zoom link, and always let them know what times you are available to talk. 

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"A great way to prepare is to practice your elevator pitch," 

- says Jessica Baumgarten, a Career Coach at the Leeds School of Business.

Do Your Homework!

There are several things you can do to prepare for a networking event. For one, it's important to do your research. Which companies are attending the conference, and which of those might you be interested in? Are those companies hiring for roles that you are qualified for? You can use the answers to all of these questions to inform the way you interact with other attendees. Jessica Baumgarten, a Career Coach at the Leeds School of Business, suggests that a great way to prepare is to practice your elevator pitch. This is your personal answer to the question “Tell me about yourself”. Although you might already have an answer prepared for a formal interview, you might want to make some tweaks for use in a networking setting. Your response should answer the questions: “Who are you, what are your strengths/passions, and how can you bring that into a professional setting?”. 

From there, it is also helpful to have a list of questions to ask an employer. “How did you end up at your current role?”, “How did you get your foot in the door of your industry?”, and “What advice would you give to your younger self?” are all great basic questions to start with. It’s also important to not ask questions that can be answered with a simple Google search, or a quick scan through their public website. You should also stray away from “What does your day to day look like?” because it is often so different from one day to the next. By doing research on your industry of interest and reading about current events, you can turn those basic questions into more specific and knowledgeable ones. “The 2-Hour Job Search” by Steve Dalton uses the TIARA framework to highlight the five topics you want to cover in your informational interview. It stands for Trends, Insights, Advice, Resources, and Assignments. You can learn more about the TIARA framework here.  

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"Your goal when attending a conference is to build your network of advocates,"

- says Jessica Baumgarten, a Career Coach at the Leeds School of Business.

Cadence of Contact: Set Yourself Apart

Another important idea that came up among several of the professionals we spoke with was one of cadence of contact. Jessica Baumgarten recommends that following up every other month, and sending messages around the holidays are great ways to stay in touch. Make sure you have a touchpoint at least every three months, but you don’t need to ask them for something every time. Smaller check-ins and even sending articles they might be interested in are helpful as well.

Jess Welser is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at B:CIVIC, and the director of the B:CIVIC Summit. This year’s summit gathers in Denver on November 2 and will bring together an incredible group of over 400 community leaders and CSR and ESG professionals. Jess suggests that conferences are great because they bring a wide variety of people together, and only trying to talking to a certain subgroup closes more doors than you think. She also advises that because active professionals are busy, it's best to streamline your request to just a single one to make it easier for them to help you. 

Conferences and networking sessions can be hard to navigate as a student. You know that networking is important, but we hope that this article will help you start to understand how to go about building your network. Start by doing your homework on companies and industries that interest you, use the TIARA framework to ask the important questions, and remember to follow up with your connections to keep your relationships strong. 

Are you looking for a way to practice the networking skills you’ve just learned? The MBArk2Boulder conference is coming to town on January 3-6, 2024 on CU’s main campus. The event includes over 15 sessions, six field trips, and networking with CEOs and founders from all over the US. If you’re interested in using business for sustainability, this is the event for you.