Networking In Your Niche — But Outside Your Company

Networking in Your Niche - But Outside Your Company | CorporetteWhat’s the best way to network in your niche and with experts in your field — but outside your company?  How can you find these experienced professionals, and how should you reach out? Can you find a mentor outside your own company? Reader M wonders:

I just landed a job in a field I’m excited to be in, and am looking to make the most out of it. However, I am the only one in my office who is responsible for this specific subject matter. While my managers help me out whenever they can, the only other person who has similar exposure to this type of work is based at our overseas office. There are a number of professionals based in my city who are experts on this particular subject matter, and I would love to meet them and perhaps find a mentor in this field. However, since my office is based a bit outside of the city and I work long hours, I’m not exactly in the position to meet up with someone for a weekday lunch or coffee. How can I start to form relationships with experienced professionals in my field when my only free time is on nights and weekends? There are only a very limited number of conferences and events that I know of, so I thought it might be worthwhile to reach out to someone directly. Thoughts?

What a great idea, Reader M — networking with other people in your niche is going to allow you to accelerate your learning, have someone else to bounce ideas off of, and even give you some visibility in the field and hopefully the means to move to other companies if and when the time is right. Networking when you’re junior takes some finesse, and maybe I’m overcomplicating your particular situation — you can always just call the local experts you know of and ask to take them to breakfast, of course! — but my concern is that a cold call would seem either like you’re job searching, or possibly (depending on the field) like you’re trying to get intel on how Company X does its work so you can copy it for your own company. However it’s interpreted, it might raise eyebrows with the expert you’re calling as well as with your company.  (One option that might bypass this: ask your overseas colleague if they have any local-to-you contacts in your field who you should know, or what local groups they recommend joining and who is in charge of them — and then ask if you may reach out using your colleague’s name.)  So, instead, my approach would be to focus on getting involved in associations and clubs within your field — this will put you in the right position to meet the experts at an association event.  If there are no local events, your involvement in the association still gives you a good reason to reach out to the experts — interview them for the association’s newsletter, or set up a local event yourself.  (It also gives you a good reason to leave work early, within reason — having an industry meeting once a month or once a quarter is generally accepted and encouraged by employers. I’ve also mentioned my love of breakfast meetings for networking — it’s often more acceptable to come an hour late to work rather than leave two hours early, but obviously, you have to know your own office here.) SO: Some ideas on how to get involved:

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Five Things You Must Bring to a Conference

Five Things You Must Bring to a Conference | CorporetteWe haven’t had a talk about conferences in too long — so ladies, let’s discuss! What are your top 5 things to bring to conferences? What are you looking for most in a conference — networking, inspiration, or education? Any fun stories (successes or failures) of conferences to share?

My own list of the top 5 things to bring to a conference would include:

  1. A tiny wall tap to expand the power outlet situation (this one or this one both look great — nice and lightweight).  Everyone ALWAYS needs to charge their devices — and there are never enough outlets.  Not only will you be able to charge when you need to, but you’ll be the belle of the ball (both at the conference and the airport, if you’re traveling).
  2. Business cards. Don’t forget your business cards — and have them somewhere accessible, such as in a pocket. Even though a business card sometimes feels a bit antiquated in today’s day and age, I totally forgot to replenish my supply when I went to my last conference and was kicking myself the whole time.
  3. A wrap. It sometimes feels like you can never get the temperature exactly right — so dress in layers. A wrap is great because you can wear it around your shoulders over a blazer, around your neck as a scarf if the weather outside is cold (or you miscalculated the level of cleavage showing that day), put it on your lap if your legs are cold, or fold it up and put it in your bag. (Bonus: it can be a travel pillow in a cinch.)
  4. A snack you can carry in your bag.  My go-tos would be a Luna bar, a KIND bar, or a small bag of almonds.  After all, there are usually limited opportunities to refuel with food, and you never want food to be the driving focus of the event.  If you have to wait around because you want to talk to a speaker after an event, or even run an errand
  5. A lightweight bag, preferably a shoulder bag. For some conferences or networking events, people feel safe ditching their bags and coats at the table, or at coat check.  Other events, though, are either in public spaces, or with new, extremely large groups of people, and you won’t feel comfortable ditching your bag.  You may or may not know how you’ll feel until the moment — so make sure your bag isn’t going to hinder your networking.  Lighten your load. Don’t carry a bag that interferes with your ability to hold a drink, such as a satchel. (Am I the only one who’s most comfortable talking to other people if I’m holding a drink? Very odd.) Finally, rethink that super expensive bag, if you tend to be obsessive over it (is it scratched? is it touching the floor? did she just KICK my BAG when she passed behind me?!?) — keep your focus on the conference instead.

Ladies, what are your top 5 things to bring to a conference?  What’s been the best conference you ever attended — and what made it great? 

Psst: our top 6 tips for networking at conferences where you know no one, and what to pack on a one-day business trip.

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What to Wear to a Networking Dinner As a Student

What to Wear to a Networking Dinner | CorporetteNetworking dinner attire can be tricky.  But if you’re a business student on a budget — and soon to be job hunting — the question is that much harder.  Reader K wonders…

I’m a student in my last semester of business school and I have some networking dinners to attend in November. Could you recommend something to wear- preferably on the cheaper side (i.e., under 100)?

It is always so frustrating trying to figure out what to wear to these things! I’m curious to hear what readers say. We’ve talked about the tricky subject of wearing business casual for networking events, as well as what to wear to an interview dinner, but not in a while. So let’s discuss.

Some thoughts on what to wear:

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What to Wear to a Homecoming Networking Event

Networking at homecomingWhat should you wear to an alumni networking event right before homecoming?  How should you figure out what to wear?  Reader M wonders…

I am attending a networking event in a few weeks and am a little bit confused on what to wear. It is part of my university’s homecoming, and is right before the homecoming game (soccer for my school). I don’t plan on attending the game. However, I worry that a suit or something I would typically wear to a networking event will be too formal. This event is on a Saturday prior to a men’s soccer game. What attire is appropriate for such a mixer? I worry that a shirt representing my school will be too casual, but am not really sure what will avoid being too dressy. What are your thoughts?

Tough question, Reader M. I would first encourage you to go with the easy route: call the recruiting/alumni/other people who are setting up the event and ask what suggested attire is. See if you can find pictures of what people have worn previously, or see if you can ask a friend who has attended in previous years (use it as a general check-in for networking purposes anyway!).

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Tips for Full-Time MBA Students

MBA tipsA new MBA student has plenty on her plate: classes and projects, networking events, recruiting opportunities — not to mention the typical grad school challenges of making new friends and (for some) adjusting to a new city. Reader R wonders…

Hi there, I was wondering if there could be a post centered around starting a full-time business program? I’m moving in for orientation next week and would love to see a post (with reader comments) about how to balance schoolwork with social activities and career recruiting/networking, suggested reading (BusinessWeek and WSJ?), how to approach recruiting events with the major companies on campus, etc… Thanks!

I think this is a great question, so I reached out to a few MBAs I know, and asked the Corporette Facebook group for tips. I’ve always thought of the experience of getting a law degree very different than an MBA, if only because socializing and networking is such a big component of the MBA, compared with the mentality of “your GPA is everything” in the first semester or two of law school. Some good tips from friends, when asked about balance and reading recs:

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What to Wear for Informal and Informational Interviews

informational interviewsWhat’s the best way to dress for informational/informal interviews that may or may not lead to “real” job interviews? Should you play it safe and wear a suit, or is it appropriate to dress a bit on the casual side? Reader L wonders…

I was invited to have “a conversation” with a very powerful woman at a foundation where I would love to work. For the initial conversation, I was advised to wear business casual. I felt my choices were right on — sleek understated black pants, closed-toed shoes with some skin showing, a high-end plum jacket in wool crepe, and some very interesting but not flashy jewelry. My conversational partner wore exactly the same components, but my choices were a couple steps dressier than hers.

The conversation went well, and we will continue our discussions. My question is what to wear to the next meeting. I have a summer suit I would be inclined to wear; even though it’s casual (navy/white linen tweed pants with a matching open jacket), it is more serious than anything I’ve observed at the foundation. But, I’m not sure if this meeting is the time to wear it. What if this meeting is then followed by a formal interview? I will already have worn my best choice for an interview suit.

Congratulations on starting the conversation, Reader L! These casual interviews are always nerve-wracking, whether they’re informational interviews, internal interviews, or even everyone’s favorite, the “not-an-interview interview over coffee.” Previously, we’ve talked about how to dress for a kind of “pre-interview” that might lead to a real one, what to wear for an “informal” interview, and what to wear for a networking lunch, and I think your outfit instincts sound spot on thus far. A few notes though:

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