Volunteering at conference: How to talk to an exhibitor about a interview and how to approach a VIP?
August 22, 2008 1:53 PM   Subscribe

Two related questions about an upcoming industry conference I'm volunteering at. First concerning talking to an exhibitor I interviewed with recently but haven't heard an offer or rejection from. Second is about approaching a speaker at the conference I really look up to. More inside ...

I'm going to be volunteering at a pretty big industry conference in the near future (sector of the tech industry, if it matters).

One of the exhibitors is a company I'd really like to work for. I interviewed with them in early July and thought things went pretty well. After not hearing anything for about a week and a half, I sent the folks I interviewed with a follow-up email. They said things had been really busy, but they'd get back to me in a week or so. It's been about a month since then I haven't heard anything from them. Usually I know what that means, but during the interview when we were discussing starting timelines and such, they mentioned they'd be looking for a few people soon and some more folks a few months out. I also know the person in charge of hiring has been traveling a lot in the last couple of months. It's possible they might still be considering, so I'm trying to think of a way to approach them and discuss this without seeming desperate or annoying. It's almost certain that at some/all of the people I interviewed with will be at the show. It seems avoiding them entirely would be a wasted opportunity to show I'm still interested.

Unrelated to the above, but my volunteer duties at the conference will primarily be helping out speakers for keynotes and panels. I really admire the work of one VIP in particular and my ultimate career goal is to do what they do, basically. If the opportunity presents itself (e.g. we're both in the green room, they're not otherwise occupied), I'd like to say something, but I don't want to sound like a sycophant. "What is the one thing you wish someone had told you when you getting into the industry?" seems a little trite. Any insight from folks who have been in a similar situation and had it play out well?

Thanks! Anon since my current employer doesn't know I'm looking to leave, but I'll happily MeFi mail anyone who indicates they'd prefer that.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (3 answers total)
Your first item: I would go over to the booth, introduce (or re-introduce) and shake hands. Mention that you interviewed a while ago and you're still keeping an eye on them; man, you sure would love to work for them some time. What are they (that specific person) working on now? It's good to remind them that you were/are interested, but don't harp on it -- push the conversation to their side and just make them remember you as someone who got along with them and was fun to talk to. Don't stalk their booth and don't monopolize the (they'll have potential clients/customers/partners to talk to, after all) but make yourself noticed.

Your second item: I've been lucky enough to meet, talk with, and have a drink with my two heroes in my industry. The first conversation I had with one of them was over a (larger group) dinner and after a little too much wine, in response to the question "What are your plans?" I blurted out, "I want to be [person] when I grow up!" The person laughed and took it very well -- could have been awkward -- and immediately started offering advice, asking me questions about potential graduate work, and so on. So I didn't have to ask anything that felt trite; I just let them know that I really looked up to them and they did all the work for me. Maybe, "Hey, nice keynote [or whatever]. I've been following your work for a while and I really admire it. [Specific items to let them know you're geniuine here] Hopefully in a few years I'll be doing [thing] as successfully as you!"
posted by olinerd at 5:06 PM on August 22, 2008

seconding olinerd, but i'd also suggest that you have a copy or two of your resume close at hand. if it's not possible to walk around the convention floor with it, keep it stashed somewhere nearby where volunteers have an area for their things. after you go over to the booth (or run into one of your interviewers on the floor), mention that you have your resume & that you'll drop off another copy. and do it. turn the happy 'coincidence' of being at the same convention with your favorite company into a gentle reminder of what a great employee you'd be.

some might disagree with me, but i say *always* take the opportunity to introduce yourself to your heroes. chances are they've worked hard to get where they are, and with few exceptions, people like to talk about themselves. they've been fawned over often enough that they know when someone is blowing smoke and when someone is being sincere. don't insert yourself into the middle of a conversation, but be succinct but be sincere.

good luck.
posted by msconduct at 4:11 AM on August 23, 2008

When hiring, you need to choose people who will stay in the job for a reasonable amount of time. So people who bug you about "Have you got a job for me?" get extra points. I would email the person you were in touch with as you haven't heard within the timeframe, and also talk to the company's people at the conference. It would probably help to cite good reasons why you want to work for them specifically.

I have just been an organiser at a major international conference and was struck again by how nice really important people are to "unimportant" people. Do speak to your idol -- though be aware that some will be very keyed up just before a major performance, so look for more relaxed occasions for involved questions. But a simple "Wow, it is just amazing to meet you!" will always go down well. If you want to ask a question, "I am looking for a new job -- what do you think is the sensible next step for me, given x,y,z?" is a better question than a generic "one piece of advice" because it is more interesting and spending time on an answer feels more helpful.

And of course, if you are looking to move on, take lots of business cards and several resumes to the conference. Talk to lots of people, and really sell yourself -- this is not a time for modesty.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:06 PM on August 23, 2008

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