By: Morgan Borer, @MorganBorer
This weekend, I traveled to the city that’s just as famous for its deep-dish pizza and hot dog stands, as it is for the Sears Tower: Chicago. I arrived at the Felix Hotel late Thursday evening with four other members of PRSSA, tired and weary-eyed from the exhaustive drive. I quickly unpacked my bags, located my planner and itinerary and hopped into bed. I was eager for a full day of networking with Scripps PRSSA.
I have traveled to Chicago a few times prior to this weekend, but I found myself unprepared for this networking trip. For example, while walking downtown during our lunch break on Friday, I frantically called my dad pleading him to deposit money into my account, I had seven dollars.
I was also shivering and attempting to warm my hands, to no avail. I also failed to bring a decent winter jacket and gloves. It’s almost April, so it must be warm in the city, right? Wrong. Fortunately, I was surrounded by people who really had it together and helped make this weekend the experience of a lifetime, despite my poor planning!
After reminiscing on the trip, I’ve conjured up a few “Do’s” and Dont’s” of Networking in the City.
Do dress for the weather
Check the local weather at least one week in advance, and begin planning appropriate outfits and outerwear. If you’re traveling to a city, like Chicago, with cooler temperatures, pack extra gloves, hats, scarves, socks, tights and a warm coat. Also, bring appropriate shoes! Flats are much more comfortable for getting in and out of cabs than heels. Stash your heels in your bag to change into at your destination.
Do your research
Know the companies and professionals that you are visiting before you walk in the door. Visit the company website, read recent press releases, and be well-informed about what they are doing in the news. Come prepared to each meeting with intelligent, thoughtful questions. Professionals will be impressed when you show that you’ve done your homework.
Do soak it in
You’re a student, so act like a sponge and soak everything in. Listen closely to what each professional has to say. Oftentimes, they offer valuable interview tips and career advice. In Chicago, several of the professionals spoke about their own personal journey after college, and how they ended up working in public relations. Pay attention to the company culture and the environment and watch how employees interact with one another.
Do follow up
Bring your resume and business card to each place you visit, and be sure to collect business cards before you leave. After the visit, send each professional a personalized follow-up email. Thank them for meeting with you and discussing the company. You can always add a compliment, or mention something specific you liked about the company. For example, when I followed up with Groupon, I mentioned how I loved the Tiki bar in the middle of the office. Additionally, reach out to each professional on Twitter or LinkedIn and send them a message. These connections will be important during job hunting season.
Don’t be on your phone
Warning: If you’re like me and have an emotional and physical attachment to your iPhone, this will be difficult. However, it’s extremely important to stash your phone away and pay attention. Professionals will notice if you seem distracted or uninterested in the presentation and their company. At one of the agencies I visited, an employee blatantly pulled out his phone multiple times throughout the presentation, giving me a negative impression of the agency. Be polite and engaged.
Don’t feel like you have to have your life planned out
A networking trip is an opportunity to sample a little bit of everything from the buffet. You don’t need to know exactly what you want, or where you want to work. If you are set on working for a non-profit, that’s excellent, but keep your options open. One professional I spoke with told me that in college he never wanted to work in advertising or marketing, and that’s exactly what he does today. Don’t be intimidated by the young, cool, seemingly know-it-all professionals. They started out right where you are.
Don’t forget to smile
Finally, don’t forget to smile! Make good eye contact and smile at everyone you meet. You will likely grow tired, hungry, or in desperate need of a 3 p.m. Starbucks run. However, making an effort to stay upbeat and positive will make each visit more enjoyable. Display genuine kindness and people will definitely notice.