One way to build your professional network is to go where the chemists are, especially to places where they are looking to talk with fellow professionals. A national meeting exposition is a good venue for this type of networking, and with a little extra work, you can gain a lot more from the exposition than you might think.
Do your homework. Before you attend the exposition, find out which companies and organizations will be present, and identify the ones that you are most interested in talking with. Visit their websites, read their recent press releases, and learn about their products. If possible, familiarize yourself with their products, or talk to a colleague who uses the products, so you will have real experience to share. This way you can add value to the conversation.
Prepare yourself. Bring business cards, a positive attitude, and realistic expectations. Go into every conversation with a smile and a determination to find a way to provide value to, and hopefully connect with, the other person. Those are realistic expectations; getting a job offer on the show floor is not. However, you might glean a nugget of useful information, or start a relationship, that will lead to a job opportunity. You can bring copies of your résumé, but don’t pull them out unless the other person asks you for a copy.
Start talking. As you approach the booth, check to be sure the representatives are not deep in conversation with someone or have a line of people waiting to talk to them. If they do, move to the next booth and circle back later. If the vendors are free, start a conversation about one of their products, using what you learned in your research.
As the conversation progresses, you can shift the conversation to talk more about the organization in general. Listen for things you have in common with the representatives and for any ways you can help them, which might be as simple as recommending a nearby restaurant.
When the conversation winds down, thank them for their time, and reiterate any specific commitments that you made. Ask for their contact info so you can follow up, and provide them with your business card.
Follow up. As soon as you are out of sight of the booth, jot a few notes on the back of their business card or on a piece of paper, including what you talked about and what you promised to do for them. When you get home, transfer that information into your address book, along with their contact info. Then, make sure to follow through on your promises to establish yourself as a reliable colleague.
These same steps work for almost any networking situation. Decide what information you need, identify people likely to know it, seek them out and talk to them, and return the favor by providing something of value to them. Then repeat. Over time, you will build a large network of fellow professionals with whom you can share ideas, information, and contacts.
Get involved in the discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).