Attendees chattingThe NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo brings together thousands of international education professionals from all over the world. This presents an interesting opportunity to network and create connections in the field. But if you arrive at the conference expecting to make connections only through haphazard encounters at sessions, you may achieve only limited success. You need forethought and preparation. To effectively make use of time at NAFSA 2016, you must communicate with intention.

For me, preconference preparation begins with self reflection. I look at where I am and where I would like to be in the near and distant future. With this vision in mind, I research. For example, if my goal in the future is a particular job, I look at the following:

  • what experience others in the position have;
  • what skills are asked for in position descriptions;
  • what networks these professionals are tapped into;
  • how they comport themselves, etc.

Then I look at my skills and my own story: what would be advantageous to do or to develop? what would I need to do to bridge the gap? These items will guide my professional development in the future as well as my immediate conference plan.

With a conference strategy set, I will have an idea of where I will be going, whom I will be engaging with, and for what purpose. The questions then become what do I need to communicate and what tools are most appropriate. If I am going to be attending job sessions in the NAFSA 2016 Career Center, I will prepare and bring hard copies of my résumé. If I am open to a position in different tracks of international education, I will prepare separate iterations of my résumé that highlight different key items.

Outside of the career center, I will hand out my card. If I am in conversation regarding a potential job or personal collaboration, then it will be a networking card of my own design. This card will be simple: contact information (cell and professional e-mail) and the URL (web address) of my LinkedIn profile. As this is about creating an impression, a bit of flair or creativity never hurts. My first card was printed recto-verso: English on one side and French on the other to advertise the fact that I was bilingual without overtly stating it.

Even if my plans do not include networking cards, I know that colleagues will seek me out on LinkedIn. So I take time to complete and update my profile before the conference. Here are some tips on updating your profile:

  • URL: Personalize it
  • Location: Change it to where you would like a job
  • Additional Information: Hobbies give recruiters the ability to connect with an applicant.
  • Skills and Endorsements: Look at position descriptions to discern what skills are valuable.
  • Experience: Formatting can be more narrative than a resume. Use concrete numbers and list technology and software used. If you are a mid-level professional, remove college work and dated information.
  • Organizations: Besides NAFSA, join and list your regional organizations. Membership is generally free, conference rates are reasonable, and they are a great place to start building your network.
  • Privacy Settings: Make yourself more visible during and immediately following the conference.

This type of preparation allows me to feel confident entering the conference hall. All that is left to do is smile.

Stephanie Martell is international student adviser at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.