Going to the event with one or two friends will make it easier to mingle. You will feel less intimidated if people you know are around you. Arrive early to get yourself mentally prepared; you will also avoid the additional nerves of rushing to get there on time. It will also give you the opportunity to talk to more firms once the event starts.
Review the layout of where the firms are located (there is a map on the Meet the Firms website), and chart a game plan. Some firms will have a large crowd throughout the evening, so be strategic so that you do not spend most of your time waiting in long lines.
You may consider starting with a firm that is not at the top of your list. You will get some practice and feel more relaxed, and you may even be surprised that your interest level increases after speaking with them.
To start a conversation, approach a professional and say “Hello”. Remember to smile, make eye contact, and extend your hand. Offer a firm, business-like handshake. Since most individuals shake hands using their right hand, it is best to put your nametag on your right side, so that they can see your nametag when you extend your hand.
Introduce yourself (remember your 30 second introduction above), and the questions you have prepared (also see above). Ask about the other person – their position, how long they have been with the firm, and why they selected that firm and specialty. Then, you can ask some other more in-depth questions about the firm and the work that they perform. Do not ask personal questions. If they ask you about your interests, you can then ask about theirs. Remember you only have a few minutes with each person, so while it is very important to establish a rapport, you also want to learn about the firms specifically.
Brief small talk can help build rapport. Small talk may relate to a variety of subjects including the weather, sports, movies, food and restaurants, travel or vacations, current events, school, your campus organization, your current job, or your hobbies and other interests. If you find you have something in common with a professional, even if totally unrelated to the profession, you may establish a connection that will be very helpful to you. It is best to avoid controversial subjects including religion, politics, and personal or family problems.
Make sure you listen to what the professional is saying. It is easy to become so preoccupied with the next question you want to ask that you do not listen to what the other person is saying especially if you are nervous. Remember that listening is a very important skill. Asking follow-up questions based on what the individual is talking about will let them know that you are listening and will help extend the conversation.
With larger firms, try to speak with a variety of professionals and not just students or staff. Students who have completed an internship can share their internship experiences, and staff can share their initial full-time experiences. Professionals who are more senior have greater knowledge and experience about their firm and the profession, and management has greater influence on who gets selected for interviews.
Take a break and get something to eat and drink, briefly. Visit the firms that are on your priority list, stay until the end, and try to visit with one or more firms that may also be of interest. This expands your learning experience, your networking, and your opportunities. Be open minded – each firm, and each group of firms are different from one another, not necessarily better. It all goes back to YOU – who you are, and what you are looking for. Different types of firms offer different benefits, advantages, and opportunities, so make sure you explore various alternatives to help you ultimately make the right choice(s).
Do not spend all your time with only one or two firms – putting your eggs in one or two baskets can severely limit the outcome.
Know when to join a group. It is generally appropriate to join a group at any time, however, make sure you observe the conversation before joining a group. Sometimes individuals might be involved in private conversation and you may seem to be intruding. Avoid joining large groups because you may not get any special attention. It is best to join a small- or medium-sized group that consists of both students and professionals. Walk up to the group, listen to the conversation they are having, and introduce yourself, when the opportunity arises.
Better than joining a group, approach someone who is standing alone, waiting for someone to speak with. Consider the opportunity to speak one-on-one and gain their direct attention, so take the initiative.