Professional Knowledge brought to you by AKPsi
During college, I had opportunities to work in various university departments, participate in a handful of competitions, and gain “real world” experiences through internships and leadership roles, but there is one resource I overlooked in my years at USC – professional conferences/events. These aren’t necessarily needed for your resume, but the amount of networking at these events are enormous and untapped by many college students. I know – you know this – but the intensity of this benefit is not realized until you’re networking at the event. Like many other students, I often find myself more focused on the college atmosphere and culture than news and events outside of campus in the local area. Yes, being involved on campus is important, but there is so much offered if you venture out.
For me, I received the full effect last week. In January, I was selected to be a student outreach coordinator and volunteer for POSSCON, which is an annual conference held in Columbia, SC around the topic of open source software (http://www.posscon.org/). For those unfamiliar with the term of open source, a few examples of this type of software are the Firefox browser, Android Operating System, WordPress (this blog), Twitter (to an extent), Open Office, and Thunderbird Mail Client. Being a conference that surrounded my career goals, I saw this as a chance to meet representatives in top technology companies. Professional conferences are very different than student-oriented conferences. Collegiate conferences are created to advance leadership development, personal branding, etc. They hold value, but professional conference focus on the specifics of that industry and a majority of attendees are current professionals (not students). POSSCON provided free registration to 175 students, which was a bonus! In the two days of the conference, I have gained contacts from peers at nearby colleges to law firms to state government to Fortune 500 companies.
Now there are two purposes of my post. One is to spread the word of POSSCON, because it is an annual event. Although it is geared towards those interested in technology, there were topics about education, healthcare, management, etc. and I encouraged many non-IT majors to attend. The second is to provide my advice once you find the opportunity.
Yes, my example was a conference, but I mean any professional event outside of college. The opportunity will not be handed to you. In Columbia, SC there is a young professional group called COR (http://www.ourcor.org) partnered with the Chamber of Commerce to provide several opportunities including networking dinners. Many cities have a similar organization and can connect you to professionals in the city. If not, ask a teacher. I found out this semester through a class about a professional organization called Project Management Institute which has monthly meetings. Each meeting is a professional speaking about his/her company. Last month’s meeting, I got to speak to an executive from TD Bank! If there is a hefty registration fee, try to negotiate by stating you are a student or ask if you can volunteer in order to get in for free.
Once you find an event (unless noted by event), don’t bring your resume. I have found it better to ask for their business card (or information – always have a pen with you) and then contact them at a later date. Today, I sent messages to the contacts I made at POSSCON and added them on LinkedIn. Be friendly, approachable, and reach out! If possible, do some research on the speakers/guests at the event and if drinking is involved, be mindful of your actions (but you’ve heard this before).
What this all comes down to is: If I needed to contact someone about a job opportunity, I am now comfortable to reach out to those I met at my conference. I learned so much information while attending the different presentations and to see and hear people that have made an impact on the technology of business was an amazing experience. I knew about things like this going on and I waiting until a month before I graduate to actually attend one. Learn from my mistake, take advantage of what your city/state has to offer. Even if it’s a drive away, it’s an investment worth making.
Emily Supil is a senior pursuing a dual-degree in Integrated Information Technology and Finance with a minor in Chinese Studies. She pledged the Alpha Kappa Psi BY chapter in fall 2007.
Follow her on twitter @dailysup