At this very moment, the first information sessions of the year are slowly but surely sneaking up on an unsuspecting student near you. The term "information session" sounds completely benign--an event at which one progresses from being "uninformed" to being "informed"--but don’t be fooled. An information session is in fact an important part of the recruiting process; it can make or break your chances of a full-time job or internship offer. As a result, you will actually have to be required to think at one of these things. You will have to prepare and follow-up. You will have to dress well.
It’s time, savvy undergrads and MBA students, to prepare yourselves! You must schmooze; you must connect; you must mingle, even if mingling is not a strong suit.
How to effectively network at a company information session
Dress the part. While we're on the topic of suits, you might want to wear one. According to Vicki Lynn, Vault’s resident expert in recruiting and career development, it’s best to dress up. "A formal suit is not necessary, however, you do want to stand out as polished and professional, so avoid jeans and a T-shirt. Men should wear a pressed shirt and dark or khaki slacks; and women should wear a black pencil skirt or black slacks and a blouse.” No five o'clock shadows, no smudged make-up, “no mohawks, mullets, moptops” or tattoos. Finally, Lynn says, “bring a leather bound notebook that contains multiple copies of your resume, business cards if you have them, and your calendar.”
Schmooze. As I mentioned before, the mingling and schmoozing are kind of part and parcel of the whole info session gig. Lynn suggests that you “arrive five to ten minutes early and grab a front row seat. Company reps will be setting up and you may have an opportunity to meet them. Offer to help them with set up and they will be so grateful and remember you forever.” As for whom to target: “any contact with the company is going to be helpful. Typically following an info session, the corporate recruiting team will get together and debrief," says Lynn. "They will discuss their interview schedule and whether they want to squeeze a few more candidates in...and that candidate could be you.” If you have several choices, “approach the person who represents the business or functional area that most closely matches your interest. Another strategy is to target the most senior company rep on the team.” Last but not least, consider location when deciding whom to approach: if you plan to apply for positions in New York, try to meet someone from the New York office.
Introduce yourself with your full name. I cannot for the life of me remember who told me this first, but it's good advice. It doesn't matter how charming you are if no one can remember your name. Think about it: you’re going to email this person after your chat, right? If you don’t tell them your name, the only way they’ll have a clue as to who you are is if you attach a picture, which is preposterous. Full name. Always.
Ask the right questions, but not too many. As a rule, limit your interaction to five to ten minutes, Lynn says, enough to go through your “elevator pitch” (three to five minutes “on why the employer should be interested in you”) and ask a few questions. As for which questions to ask, make sure at least a few reflect your knowledge of the company. Lynn advises:
Be sure you have done your homework prior to attending the info session. Read everything you can about the company by going to its website and sites like Vault.com, where you can gather insights, ratings, rankings and insider information. Ask about something current--a new product, competition, acquisition, leadership culture.
Remember also that you're getting an individual perspective, and your questions should represent your appreciation of that perspective. Instead of "How has the economic downturn affected the company?" ask "How has the economic downturn affected your day-to-day at company X?"
Get a business card and take notes. Easy enough, right? At the end of the conversation, says Lynn, “thank the person for speaking with you and ask for his or her business card and/or name and contact information.” As soon as you leave, take notes about what you learned and from whom. These will be very useful when you...
Send thank you notes. An email is fine, so long as you send them out quickly. Keep it relatively short, but mention some of what you learned or found interesting in the conversation. That way, your note won’t read like a form letter.
And after all that, sit on a grassy knoll with some daisies. Sip a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. You need to fortify yourself for the next one.
--Written by Madison Priest.
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