Conferences aren't about continuing education alone; they are also about networking. As I write this, I am headed to the first of several conferences on my fall schedule. My travels over the years have produced some specific advice.
First, a confession. I am an exhibit hall addict. Sure, some networking goes on during the presentations. But the exhibit hall is where the magic happens!
From Both Sides
Over the years I have been on both sides of the exhibit booth (exhibitor and attendee), so I am speaking from firsthand experience. If you are of the opinion that the exhibit hall is the place to go to gather free pens and kill time in between sessions, you are missing a golden opportunity. The exhibit hall is a great place to be seen and make new connections - helpful if you are considering a job change and critical if you are seeking a new position.
I know a number of NPs and PAs who attend the exhibit breaks but avoid visiting any of the staffing and recruiting agency booths. Big mistake. These folks have their fingers on the pulse of the job scene and having a little face time with them can only benefit you.
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Don't Pass These Up
Don't pass up the booths for healthcare organizations either. Don't assume they are there only to offer a new program or product because it's just as likely they are recruiting. It's no accident that the people in the booths representing the company are the human resources staff. If you have been looking for work you know that one of the hardest tasks is to actually get a live person on the phone. But at a conference you have the chance get one-on-one face time! Since the atmosphere is more relaxed, you are also more likely to get more helpful information than you ever could in a phone chat. You may also get a sense of whether or not the personality of the organization would be a good fit for you.
Bring Your Resume
Be prepared. I know you have been told to bring copies of your resume or your business cards, but that is so 2011. If you want to impress 2012 recruiters, you need to operate with 2012 technology. Keep a copy of your resume on your smartphone so that when someone says "send me your resume," you can do it before you leave the booth. I guarantee that every person working the exhibit booth has either a smartphone or an iPad within reach at all times.
Who do you think will make the most lasting impression? A) The paper resume person (nope), B) the "email my resume later" person (nope again) or C) the person who sent a resume on the spot!
Share Your Email Address
And stop being so protective of your email address! It's 2012 and if you want to stay in the loop, it's going to happen by email. Employers tend to announce their openings via email, and more often than not it will be exclusively by email. Email is cheaper, quicker and more targeted than running ads or sending snail mail. So what if you get a ton of email? It's not like you pay for each email you get.
If you receive emails that you don't have the time to read or you aren't interested in, just hit delete. I would rather receive emails than phone calls or paper mail any day. Think of the information in each email as market research. It will give you something you can compare other job openings to . You know, the one or two you see online or in the newspaper. Or maybe you would prefer to spend your time visiting the online employment section on the website of each organization on a weekly basis, hoping (or praying) to see a new job opening? Or you could have the information delivered directly and promptly to your inbox. Think about it.
Support Those Who Support You
On a more serious note, exhibitors are the backbones of every conference. No vendors = no conferences. The lunches, handouts and all the goodies you enjoy are courtesy of them. Much of the operating expenses for conferences are subsidized by exhibitors. Sponsors are gambling that the high fees they pay for a booth will pay off in leads that will increase their business. When attendees don't take time to visit the exhibits and booths, it increases the likelihood the vendor won't be back. Conferences are expensive and without the sponsorship of the vendors, many conferences would be forced to scale back or completely cut out many of their educational offerings.