Monday, October 31, 2011

Gear Up for Your Next Promotion Using IT Industry Conferences: 5 Tactics

Most IT pros who join industry associations don't get half the value they could for their dues. If you think of your associations as a resume tick -- something you pay for so your resume will look current -- you're leaving advantages on the table when it comes to raises, promotions, or career advancement at a new employer.

For only a little more investment and effort, you can use annual industry conferences as a powerful tool to show how ready you are for bigger challenges.

Here are the five fastest ways to stretch those conferences further:

1) Make Connections

Networking used to be tough for many information technology professionals: from the outside, it looks like a scripted ritual that's all about demanding favors from people you just met. No more! Tools like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to prime casual acquaintances into business contacts with none of the awkwardness.

Bring business cards branded with your expertise and credentials, and "work the room." Even a ten minute conversation warrants getting in touch later by adding your new contacts to LinkedIn. Presenters, especially, are often more than happy to add you and point you to resources that will help you put new ideas into practice.

You can keep introductions brief, knowing that anything that interests you will serve as fodder for a longer, post-convention follow up.

2) Bring Something Back

Unless you're on a company-sponsored trip, it's likely you're the only one from your team attending any given conference. Since you know that's the case, do your best to act like a reporter.

Get copies of the handouts, literature, and even PowerPoints from each session you attend. Take notes on everything. If you can, chat up the presenters and ask specific questions about how you can apply their methods to your workplace.

Once you've got it all together, congratulations: you're now an expert. Pitch the idea of presenting a summary or distributing a written packet that will bring everyone on your team up to speed. With luck, you'll become the de facto conference attendee. That can mean more trips in the future and a high profile role as the "best practices" expert.

If you do have a partner or even a team, work together to split up and cover as much of the proceedings as you can. Balance the needs of group members to go to sessions that interest them with the goal of finding out about everything that went on.

3) Update Your Resume

Your resume might be evaluated by somebody who doesn't get much out of their own industry conferences, and without knowing differently, they may assume you're the same way. If you want to turn conference-going into something valuable and make it part of your brand, you've got to use context to your advantage.

Turn conference attendance into a heading on your resume. Use a bold subheading to list subjects you learned more about, and follow each with an explanation of how you used knowledge from a recent presentation to improve processes at your job.

This will show that your conference-watching really adds value to your workplace. It also positions you as someone who can take new information and adapt it quickly to the needs of your company. Hiring managers are sure to approve.

4) Build Your Speaking Credentials

There's no easier way to overcome the tired old stereotype that information technology pros are poor communicators than to become known as a public speaker. Even if you've never thought about it before, the best way to start working toward a speaking credential next year is by talking to the conference organizer this year.

IT changes fast, so there's no telling what subjects will be in demand for a conference program in twelve months. But if you start the conversation early, you might find that an area you're skilled in will be needed when next time rolls around. As with everyone else you meet, add the conference organizer to LinkedIn -- and stay in touch!

5) Expand Your Brand

If you have a blog, a conference is the perfect time to energize and grow your list of followers. Post your comments and thoughts about what you hear, promote the ideas you find most valuable, and try to start conversations about the critical points. You can post links on LinkedIn or Twitter to get more people involved. This builds your credentials as a knowledgeable, up-to-date industry insider.

S. D. Farrell, CARW, CEIC is a Certified Advanced Resume Writer, career development author, and speaker. He has placed hundreds of job seekers during the recession, helping information technology pros from entry to C-level achieve their career goals at Fortune 100 employers like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Read more IT career advice by this author at

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