Conference Connections

How to Search for Jobs at Professional Events, Ace Interview Presentations and Double down on Your Leadership Skills



By Lindsay Scott

I'm just starting my project management career. What can I do at professional conferences to help my job hunt?

Professional conferences provide a great opportunity to network and make job-search connections. But you need to develop a plan before the conference to turn chance encounters into lasting impressions. Here's what I suggest:

Prep business cards: A digital format allows you to easily share your contact information, as well as some headline details about what you do or what you're looking for. But in a pinch, it won't hurt to have conventional cards to share that include the same information.

Practice a pitch: Rehearse a brief (15- to 30-second) introduction that's focused on what people should know—and remember—about you. By preparing early and practicing often, you'll have more confidence in your elevator pitch.

Look for mingle matrixes: Three's not a crowd at conferences—it's an invitation to network. When you spot a conversation triangle, look for a lull to step forward and introduce yourself. Ask why they're attending; it will take the immediate focus off you and facilitate a more natural shift to your job search.

Document in downtime: Throughout the conference, take time to organize business cards you receive, jot down notes about job leads and create reminders to follow up with new contacts. During conference breaks, quickly add new connections on LinkedIn.

Be social: Add a Twitter handle to your conference badge and take part in the social streams at the event so people can connect with you virtually. Conference apps are another great way to scout out contacts you would like to meet in advance.

Listen and learn: Of course, conferences aren't just a networking opportunity—you're there to soak up new knowledge, too. Sharing that info in your job interviews will show prospective employers that you're a keen self-developer who keeps up to date with new trends.

The bottom line? Extending the job search to professional conferences doesn't have to feel like improvisation. Having a thought-out plan to seize on spur-of-the-moment conversations can expand your network and open doors.

I've been asked to prepare a presentation in advance for a job interview. Do you have any tips?

Presentations are common for interviews because they're a great way to test various project management skills. Start by reading the prospective employer's instructions carefully (they're looking for attention to detail) and make sure you understand the objective of the presentation. If you're given specific instructions around a template or the length of the presentation, make sure you stick to them. You might have the best presentation lined up, but running overtime is a critical lapse for project professionals.

Anticipate risks, too. For instance, don't assume there will be a projector available, and make sure you can meet any computer requirements that exist. Ask if you need to bring your own laptop and have a backup on a USB stick too. It's also good practice to print out copies of your presentation for each person in the audience, so find out how many copies are needed and bring extra for backup.

If you're not given strict instructions on how many slides to present, I'd recommend using about seven slides for roughly 10 minutes of talk. After the introduction, aim to deliver one point per slide. Make sure you practice not only the material, but the pace and tone, as well as maintaining eye contact to effectively engage the audience. If you can add personal experiences throughout the presentation, use the STAR tecÚique: Describe the Situation or Task, the Action you took and the Results you gained. Finally, relax and enjoy. Embrace your time in the spotlight.

I'd like to focus on developing leadership skills in 2019. Where do I start?

Begin with the leadership side of the PMI Talent Triangle® to zero in on behavioral skills like influencing, negotiation and team building. While there are specific training courses for all these aspects, I would urge you to first spend some time in self-reflection to identify possible gaps in your existing skills. Consider where your career is now and what you want to improve. Then think about where you would like to head and what skills you'll need to get there.

Many project professionals opt for short bursts of knowledge from books, seminars, webinars and TED Talks. The trick is to develop new thinking and have the confidence to apply it in your work. It also takes confidence to keep putting it into practice. Trying new approaches requires persistence so you can learn from what goes well and change what doesn't go so well. Developing new habits takes time, so stick with it and you will start to see the results. PM

img Lindsay Scott is the director of program and project management recruitment at Arras People in London, England.



Related Content

  • PM Network

    On Your Own member content open

    By Thomas, Jen For project professionals, a boss can be the biggest advocate—or biggest obstacle—on the career path. A helpful manager will mentor and champion project wins, promote face time with high-level…

  • PM Network

    Temporary Influence member content open

    By Masefield, Philipp Earlier this year, I took a four-month temporary role on a leadership team to cover for an extended sick leave. I had to start the job without a handover, as the executive who had held the position…

  • PM Network

    How Not To Start A Project Management Career member content open

    By Bishel, Ashley Nobody's perfect. Even the most seasoned and self-assured project manager was once a mistake-prone rookie. That's a reality today's new project professionals must embrace—whether they are new to the…

  • PM Network

    Time For An Upgrade member content open

    By Olubadejo, Olusola I've noticed that most project managers in West Africa are selected based on their technical skills. But a project manager must have excellent leadership skills to be successful. These include…

  • PM Network

    Strategic Deficits member content open

    By Ali, Ambreen CIOs know what's needed to deliver value. But those expectations don't jibe with the reality of organizations' strategic capabilities.