By De’Osha Randolph
On February 20 I had the pleasure of attending my first professional conference: Real World PR. The conference was hosted by the Georgia PRSA chapter and is geared toward undergraduate students who are pursuing a career in public relations.
I had an awesome time and I learned a ton of information that I would not normally get in a classroom. My only regret was not attending one of these conferences before my senior year! Not only was I able to network with professionals at some of the world’s top agencies but with students in my field as well.
I have decided to make a list of advice, tips, and tricks on how to survive your first professional conference or career fair!! Enjoy!
- Dress like you’re going to an interview!
I know you have heard it before, but it is true! At any professional conference, career fair, or even brief informational meeting you may have with a future employer, you should always dress the part! Dressing professional doesn’t have to be boring; you can actually look rather chic while still pulling off the professional look. I wore black slacks, a white peplum top, black patent leather heels, and a cute blazer with minimal accessories. Most of the students in attendance were dressed very well too! If you don’t know what to wear, browse Pinterest! And don’t forget, you’re never fully dressed without a smile!
- Make business cards!
Before I went to Real World, I ordered business cards from Vistaprint.com. I spent $25 for 100 custom made business cards and I am very glad that I did. While I was networking, I handed them to everyone I came in contact with and exchanged them with students as well. Now I keep them in my wallet in case I meet someone in passing who I would like to keep in contact with. I love my business cards and this is definitely a way to leave a good impression. Also bring a notepad and pen in case you want to jot down important notes or details about a company!
- Have your resume critiqued BEFORE you go
At Real World, they offered a very beneficial résumé critiquing session. But what happens if you meet someone who wants a copy of your resume on the spot? I wanted to get my resume critiqued by those professionals but I also wanted my resume to be decent enough to hand out! So before I went, I took my resume to VSU’s Career Opportunity Center and had them help me perfect it. I have learned that every professional has a different way of doing resumes and there really is no absolute right way! 30 professionals can have 30 different ways for drafting a resume. As long as you have quality information you are good to go. Make sure you have your resume looked over before you go so you can feel confident enough to hand it out!
- Be confident
I can’t lie: I did have a brief moment of intimidation when I first walked in. I thought about how the others in attendance could have had way more experience than me, or were more qualified, better dressed, or had better resumes. I could have totally psyched myself out. During the networking session, there were SO many people running to the tables and throwing their resumes in the employer’s faces! Sometimes the lines to talk to a company’s representative were ridiculously long and even the representatives of the companies came off as intimidating and tired of talking to us. I could have easily gone home or not tried at all. But instead I took a deep breath, got rid of those negative thoughts, and did what I had to do.
During the networking session, I started by going to the tables that were not as crowded and asked about the company and positions that they had, then as the crowd died down I made my way to the rest of the tables. I spoke with every company that interested me, exchanged business cards and was on my way! In hindsight, I would have hated myself for leaving because I met and learned about AMAZING opportunities. I’m sure no one knew that I was a little nervous, and that’s all that matters. So be confident and stand tall even if you want to run!
- FOLLOW UP!
After you’ve made a fabulous impression, follow up with the people you met and thank them for their time! The conference was on a Friday and ended around 3 p.m. I decided to wait until Monday to send my follow up and thank you emails; I figured that it would be a better time. I drafted the emails on Sunday, making sure I addressed the correct person, and sent them first thing Monday morning! I even got a couple replies and an interview out of it! Following up is very important, even if they do not remember you at all, it says a lot if you take the time to thank them. You can also request an informational interview or another sit down with someone if you really felt like you would be a good fit for the company.
If you follow these simple tips your next conference will be a breeze! I truly enjoyed Real World PR and I highly recommend that every PR major attend no matter what your classification is. It is a great event and definitely worth your while. Also, if there are any other professional conferences or career fairs that interest you, go to them! You never know who you’ll meet, what you’ll learn, or what opportunities lie ahead!
Best of luck!
xoxo, De Randolph!