One huge benefit of Heller’s location in Waltham, MA is its proximity to Boston. Graduate school is not only about coursework, but about professional development and networking building. Boston is home to local chapters of many nationally recognized professional associations, including Reaching Out MBA, the National Black MBA Association, the Association of Latino Professionals for America, and the National Association of Asian American Professionals.
Thanks to the generous support of the Graduate Student Association and Heller’s Office of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion, seven other Social Impact MBA candidates and alumni and I had the opportunity to attend the 44th annual National Black MBA Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The schedules at these conferences are typically jam-packed with many workshops, expos, and receptions that run concurrently. As a result, it can be hard to know what to prioritize if you don’t go in with a game plan. Here’s what I learned about how to maximize your time at conferences.
Research Employers Beforehand
The National Black MBA Conference held a two day Career Expo from 9 to 5 on Thursday and Friday with 200+ employers. We realized pretty quickly that it was physically impossible to try and talk to representatives at all 200 companies, especially since there were workshops and receptions happening throughout the day that we were also very interested in attending. Instead, we needed to approach this strategically. I used my time in the airport and on the plane to review the list of exhibiting employers and narrow it down to the top 20 that I was interested in, with the intention of talking to 10 employers each day of the expo. In reality, I ended up speaking with around 13 employers in total. Conversations with companies where there was clearly no alignment took less than 5 minutes. In contrast, my conversations with companies that were a good fit took around 20 minutes, which meant, in an hour, I had only talked to three. In hindsight, I should have reviewed the employer list a lot sooner, and that way I could have printed more tailored resumes to hand to each employer.
Scout out the Space
Each day of the expo, I began by doing one big round of the space to identify who was present and where the employers I was interested in were located. This is actually how I realized that there was a rotation, and not every employer was present every day, but rather, were there for a specific timeblock. I ended up missing two employers of interest because I didn’t realize this sooner.
One thing that helped a lot was having LinkedIn downloaded as an app on my phone. In the app version, I was able to pull up a QR code that employers could scan and immediately add me to their networks. The second day of the expo, I realized it was better for me to scan the employer’s code, that way I could screenshot their profiles and have an easy list of people to follow up with post-conference. If you’re not big on LinkedIn, or if you forgot to bring physical copies of your resume, you could also consider downloading the HiHello app. This app allows you to create multiple profiles that you can send to others via QR code. Having multiple profiles allows you to tailor information to specific audiences. For example, maybe you have a graduate student profile that uses your school email and a job search profile that uses your personal email. I’ve had friends who had a separate profile for themselves as business owners. On HiHello, you can include a link to the social media of your choice and to a virtual company of your resume.
When attending conferences, it’s important to remember that you can’t see or do it all. Researching the schedule, employers, and (if possible) attendees will help you identify the best places to focus your time and energy. The Heller Career Development Center newsletter, student working groups, and alumni are some of the best sources for identifying conferences that are a good fit for your academic and professional interests. Happy networking!