I spent my first professional conference hoping no one would notice how nervous I was. I fidgeted in my new “professional” clothes and fiddled with my flimsy business cards. I was a college junior, new to the world of science writing, and I felt like an imposter. While I’ve since accepted that I may never learn to walk in high-heels, arriving at the 2010 NASW conference, I am comfortable. I know how to network.
Preparation is the first step for good networking. Go through the speakers list and learn some names. If, say, the editor of Scientific American (Mariette DiChristina!) looks interesting, make sure to actually read some Scientific American.
Once at the meeting, focus on attitude. I always try to be friendly—smiles and handshakes for everyone! The late bird doesn’t get the worm, and the wallflower doesn’t get any business cards. Speaking of business cards, don’t be stingy. I recently got a job after a journal editor looked at my card and realized she needed a freelancer. It’s also smart to have resumes and clips on hand.
Now the awkward part: what to talk about? It’s tempting to beg for a job. Please, pretty please. Don’t do that. Mention that you would love to get more experience through a job or internship. Ask if they’re hiring, but be realistic. Jobs are rare these days, and an employer probably gets approached by a lot of bright-eyed college students like myself. You shouldn’t just look for work—you should try to learn from the professionals. Ask for advice about getting into the business. How does a writer come up with topics? How does an editor decide what gets published?
Finally, a brief story about first impressions:
Last year, I was shopping with my uncle, a true trend-watcher, when he grabbed my hand. He inspected my scraggly nails and chipped pink nail polish and shook his head. “Just because it’s journalism doesn’t mean your nails have to look like that,” he said. Apparently, writers have a reputation for looking sloppy. Despite our disheveled stereotype, professional attire plays a big part making a good impression. Just because I’m a college student doesn’t mean I have to look like one.
This year I’m ready. I’m excited to hand out my cards and meet some of my favorite writers. Now I just have to worry about looking like a weather-wimp as I shiver through this New England weekend.