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Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


How to Network at a Professional Conference

How to Network at a Professional Conference

How to Network at a Professional Conference

How to Network at a Professional Conference

Student affairs is both a pretty large and pretty small world. Most student affairs professionals in the job search succeed best when they can leverage their network to help them at the right time.

Professional conferences are one of the most ideal places for networking. Here you can meet other liked minded student affairs professionals. Conferences provide opportunities to demonstrate your relevance and memorablity.

The hard part comes when you have to pitch yourself. When to sell… YOU at the conference. Luckily you have a few options.

First, attending professional conferences in student affairs is a great step in the right direction. The big two are: NASPA: Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education  and ACPA College Student Educators International.

At these conferences, you can totally introduce yourself with your relevant background and student affairs collateral area.

Graduate Student Example:

“Hi, my name is Tanya and I’m a higher education administration graduate student at New York University.”

Entry Level Student Affairs Professional example:

“Hey, I’m Luke and I’m the Coordinator for Community Standards at Bowling Green State University.”

Likewise, you could also state WHY you’re attending this specific conference.  For example you can lead with “My name is Valerie and I’m at NASPA because I’m conducting a job search because I’m graduating this May.”

Pro Tip

Introductions like these are a great place to start. However, if you really want to be a pro, then look a person’s conference badge to glean some information and create a specific introduction.

For example say you’re attending a conference presentation on social justice and you sit next to someone whose title includes “Dean of Student Engagement.” Your introduction could be:

“Hey, I currently advise multicultural organizations in student activities, but I’m interested in crossing over to student engagement. I’d love to know exactly what your area does. Oh, and my name’s Sandra by the way.”

Remember to Provide Value

Another way to approach potential networking opportunities is to answer the question of “How can this person help me?”

Some of the best ways to help a new friend at a conference are to:

  • Refer them to one of your colleagues who works in their collateral area

  • Refer them to a conference presentation or panel of their interest

  • Relate something you discovered about their collateral area or institution

Follow Your Fear

With that being said, approaching other student affairs professionals at conferences can be very SCARY! On one hand you’ve never met this person before. On the other hand, you also don’t want to come off as creepy, sleazy, or a glorified sales pitch.

 To alleviate all of these fears, I rely on one of my tried and true methods for casual conference contacts: context (try saying that five times fast).

Now I’m not asking you to start introducing yourself to random individuals in the hallways. But I am asking you to look for places where networking naturally happens. These can be at scheduled “networking breaks,” “after parties,” or “socials.” But they don’t always have to happen there.

 What do I look for? Lines.

  •  Waiting in line to buy lunch? “Hey are you enjoying the conference so far?”

  • Waiting in line to pick up your badge? “You look like you’ve been to this conference before.”

  • Standing on the Elevator / Escalator? “I like your shoes!” :)

Remember that networking is about developing your contacts. Sometimes that happens professionally during a presentation or panel. Sometimes that means just complimenting someone’s shoes on the escalator!

The end result is the same though. Meet people; share a pleasant experience; demonstrate value; and then exchange contact information.

I hope to meet you in line at a conference one day so that we can strike up a random conversation!

Happy networking,

Dave Eng, EdD

Provost, The Job Hakr



How to Network at a Conference: 10 Ways to Make Contacts Like a Pro. (2019, January 25). Retrieved March 6, 2019, from