You've been told that networking is the way to get that first engineering role. So now you're at CupcakeJS1, staring at a sea of booths, feeling confused and overwhelmed. What exactly are you supposed to do? How do conversations lead to jobs?
As a Developer Evangelist who's spent many hours sitting on the other side of the booth, I have Opinions2. Follow these suggestions to create win-win interactions with event sponsors.
These tips are aimed primarily at people seeking their first engineering job, but they still apply to more experienced folks.
Understand why companies sponsor events. Some sponsorships are for recruiting purposes. Some sponsorships happen because the company makes a product for developers, and the folks at the booth are there to promote the product. In the second case, the folks at the booth aren't directly responsible for the recruiting pipeline. But! You can still get good intel about company culture if you play your cards right. Think about what's most important to you in your new role, and ask the folks at the booth about that. "Tell me about work life balance at $COMPANY." Or "How does your team mentor and support new folks?"
Don't make assumptions about booth workers' roles. Every time I've been asked "So, are you a recruiter?" while working the booth, I feel frustrated. Recruiting is both difficult and important, but it's not my gig. I worked really hard to become an engineer. Booth staff might work in:
- developer relations
- marketing (which is not dev rel, btw)
"Tell me about what you're working on at $COMPANY" is a better conversation opener and avoids making assumptions.
Do some research. Usually, job seekers walk up to the booth clutching a folder of resumes. They open by asking "So, tell me about what your company does" which they could have discovered on their own. Sponsors are typically listed on the event's website. Decide which of those companies you might be interested in. Then look at the open roles on the company careers page and see if any of them are a good fit for you specifically. Even if a company's primary motivation for sponsorship is recruiting, they may not have any open roles that fit you (especially if you're junior). Skipping companies that aren't a good match saves your time and energy. For the companies that do match, going in with some preparation makes you stand out from the crowd. Also, preparation allows you to have a more nuanced conversation about company culture and the specific team(s) you're interested in.
If the folks at the booth aren't recruiters, don't ask them to refer you for a job. When somebody refers you, they're putting their own reputation on the line to vouch for you. I'm sure you're great but I don't have enough context after one 5-minute conversation at the booth to stake my reputation on it. If somebody is a recruiter or a hiring manager, it's okay to directly ask them to consider you for an open role. Don't be pushy or rude, though. You win no points here for gumption.
Basic social conventions apply. Make eye contact. Smile. You don't need to dress up -- T-shirts or hoodies are fine -- but wear clean clothes, brush your teeth. Be receptive to cues that the other person might need to end the conversation. Or better yet, approach the booth during a slow time if you want to have a longer conversation.
Don't neglect networking with other conference attendees! They may also have job leads. Even if they don't, it pays in the long term to expand your network. Networking doesn't have to be super transactional. When I started thinking of networking as "making friends, but in a professional sense" or "talking to interesting people" it made a lot more sense to me as a concept.
I hope some of this is useful. Go forth and work the room.