Professional conferences — often hosted by professional associations and institutions — can be local, regional, national, or international. They typically include events, speakers, panels, networking, and professional development programs, and may take place over one day or several.

If you’re attending a conference for the first time, use our tips to help you navigate and make the most of the experience.

Before a Conference

DO YOUR RESEARCH

  • Spend time reading the convention’s website and agenda. Review session topics and research speakers.
  • Some conferences include a career fair. Research organizations attending and their opportunities.
  • Follow the conference on social media to stay updated and see who else is attending.

SELECT YOUR SESSIONS 

  • Identify sessions and events that meet your learning goals (skills, knowledge) or interpersonal goals (people you want to meet). Be realistic about the number of sessions you can attend.
  • Look out for events where you can meet others attending the conference for the first time.

UPDATE AND BRING COPIES OF YOUR RESUME

PREPARE YOUR INTRODUCTION

  • Have a quick introduction prepared that shares a little about you. This can include the most relevant pieces of your past, present, and future career goals. You can also share what brought you to the conference. An introduction can last from a few seconds to 30 seconds, depending on the situation.

PREPARE FOR COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

  • If the conference includes a career fair or on-site interviews, you’ll want to be ready for common questions. Prepare answers to questions like: “Tell me about yourself,” “What are your short and long term career goals?” “What are your key strengths?” and “Tell me about a weakness.” Have a few stories prepared that demonstrate your strengths and interests.
  • You can use Big Interview to practice common questions or schedule a practice interview with a career counselor.

PREPARE QUESTIONS 

  • Have 3–5 questions prepared that you can ask anyone you meet. These can include questions about what brought them to the conference, their career or educational journeys, or what sessions they’ve enjoyed. You can always fall back on these if you’re feeling stuck.

During a Conference

STAY ON TRACK, BUT BE OPEN TO UNEXPECTED OPPORTUNITIES

  • Keep your schedule at the ready so you don’t miss any of the sessions you’ve identified. That said, give yourself space to change plans depending on what you learn and who you meet.

BUILD STRONGER RELATIONSHIPS AND MEET NEW PEOPLE

  • This is a great opportunity to build stronger relationships with people you already know but also push yourself to meet new people. Set manageable goals for yourself. Introduce yourself to people sitting near you at programs and don’t be afraid to join a table or approach someone at an event.

CONNECT TO SPEAKERS

  • Introduce yourself to speakers after events. Thank them for their time, ask a follow-up question, or see if they might have time at or after the conference to connect further.

REQUEST CONTACT INFORMATION

  • When you meet someone new, ask for contact information. If they don’t have a business card on hand, you can suggest connecting on LinkedIn.

TAKE NOTES AND STAY ORGANIZED

  • You’ll learn a lot, so take notes during and after sessions and stay organized with materials. Bring along a notebook and pen. Listen closely at sessions and participate. You might also receive employer giveaways, so bring a bag to free your hands during introductions.

CARVE OUT TIME FOR YOURSELF

  • Conferences are amazing but can also be tiring! Carve out time for yourself, get enough sleep, and take a break when you need it.

After a Conference

FOLLOW UP

  • Within a week (less if there was an interview), follow up with thank you notes, LinkedIn requests, and follow-up questions. Show appreciation and ask to schedule follow-up phone calls or meetings if you want to connect more.

SHARE YOUR LEARNING

  • Find ways to share your learning with your peers and mentors. Share takeaways, videos, handouts, and articles that might be useful to them.

SET GOALS

  • You likely learned a lot during the conference. Go back to your notes to set goals 3–5 goals. Are there topics you want to read more about? Courses you want to take? Companies you want to research? Positions to apply to? Set time frames for your goals and stay accountable with a friend.
  • Take notes on what went well at the event and what you might want to do differently next time.

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