Meet the Professionals 2017 at Solent University

The annual Meet the Professionals event at Southampton Solent is a valuable networking event for students. This year it was in the newly completed Spark building and attracted a much bigger crowd.

It is a fantastic opportunity for Southampton students studying public relations, advertising, marketing and creative subjects to see what’s available in the local area, network and pick up valuable advice.

This is my third year doing the event, the first as a student and the second and third as a PR professional. Read about the tips and tricks I picked up and gave out at this year’s event.

Meet the Professionals is a speed networking event where students get five minutes one on one with companies to ask questions and get contact details.

I’ve attended this event before, you can read about my experience and the advice I had to give in 2016 here: https://rvhenderson.com/2016/02/03/ciprs-meet-the-professionals-2016-at-solent-university/.

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Last year I had a solid set of five recommendations from the event, which I still believe are valid. My 2016 top tips were…

  1. Be brave – This isn’t easy. It’s daunting out there but be brave, professionals and companies were once where you were. We all start somewhere.
  2. Grow a thick skin – You are going to get some knock-backs, but it’s time to man up and be more elephant! Learn what you can from these experiences, can you get feedback? As soon as you can pick yourself back up, dust yourself down and keep going, your opportunity is out there. No, seriously, put that Ben and Jerry’s down and grab yourself a Kleenex – you can do this!
  3. Never stop learning – Don’t be afraid to enrol yourself on courses, speak to your peers, ask for advice or shadow a colleague. The industry is evolving all the time, but don’t worry there are many ways to keep your skills together including your CIPR membership, you tube, the infinite resource that is Google, online courses, local colleges and universities.
  4. Find a way – If it’s your dream industry or company and you’ve tried and failed to get in through a direct application can you get another job with them and then side step in to what you want? This could be an option. I did, so can you!
  5. Dig the journey – Unless you are the luckiest so and so, and if you are count your blessings, don’t worry if your journey is the path less travelled. Don’t worry if it takes you longer than others to figure out where and what you want to do, you will learn so much that will contribute to your future, more desired, career (and life in general).
A busy 2017 event!

A busy 2017 event!

Although these are still my essential recommendations, there was a lot from this year that I’d like to add to this list. There are some really helpful things I think students could do to leverage this experience and direct access to professionals to their advantage.

My additional five recommendations from the 2017 Meet the Professionals event are…

  1. Who’s there?– Look at the list of companies going before you go. If you want to work for one of these companies or get an internship from them don’t turn up knowing nothing about them. Not knowing what the company does, especially if they are well known locally, can be detrimental to your chances of getting work experience as it can make you appear uninterested! The more savvy of your peers will have already done this leg work.
  2. Preparation – Come with a list of questions, a note pad and a pen. Preparing questions isn’t easy if you’re not sure what you want to do. But, you can waste a lot of time not maximising face to face time with someone you may want a job from and who would be able to help you. Plus, you’d stand out from everyone else that’s come unprepared.  Make the effort to do your research, it will make you stand out by a country mile.
  3. Who are you? – Make those contacts. This is a networking event, make sure you pick up business cards or take their details down in your notepad. If your memory is like mine and you’ll struggle to remember 50 names in an evening, are sure you note names down after each meeting.
  4. Follow up – Once you’ve got the contacts, email them the next day to connect with them and add them to your social networks. If you’re in the market for an internship or job make sure you’ve got a tailored CV ready to send them within a day while you are still fresh in their minds. I’ve told everyone I’ve met to do this and only a couple do. Strike while the iron’s hot!
  5. Be social – If you want to be in PR, or any of the creative industries, you need an online presence. Don’t be the person asking what Linked In is when it is mentioned. If the the industry you want to would benefit from you blogging or having a portfolio, it’s time to make one!

These are all small things, that require a bit of effort, but if you them it’s going to help you and make you stand out from your peers as smart, professional and interested.

These are some tips from me, a professional in the PR industry, that I know will help you get ahead and maximise this networking event. But, it’s aways good to get an alternative perspective about the event from someone who attended.

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I spoke to Sarah Penny, a student and the event organiser to get her advice for fellow students and to hear about her experience of the Meet the Professionals event.

Here are five things Sarah’s taken from the event as a student and the event organiser…

  1. My top one would be never underestimate students. I was doubtful any were going to turn up, but we were overrun with students!
  2. I didn’t realise how beneficial it would be for me as the organiser, but I have made so many new connections and really increased my social network.
  3. Don’t panic. I was so anxious that there were going to be too many professionals or too any students, but no-one else is bothered about it or even notices, so there’s no point worrying about it!
  4. Control of the situation is very difficult to attain and even harder to maintain. Getting the students to move on to the next professional and maintain the suggested path through the room was very difficult. Some did, but because others didn’t there were times when people had to wait. Just go with the flow and accept it for what it is.
  5. Finally, use your contacts. I was really lucky to be able to get professionals that I knew were really positive and motivational and would have a really good effect on the students. This for me was vital because I wanted students to go away from the event thinking ‘yes, I can do this. This is what I want to do!’

If you’d like to read Sarah’s personal blog about the Meet the professionals event head over to https://thejourneyofaprgirl.wordpress.com/2017/02/05/meet-the-professionals-2017/.

I think there are some real key points you can take from Sarah’s reflections on the event. Some of her key points are don’t panic, be polite at these events by listening to instructions and make use of important contacts being there just to speak to you – you’ll very rarely get an opportunity like this one!

Sarah did a wonderful job of filling the much bigger Spark space and getting a higher number of students to attend than in previous years. I think she put in a lot of effort to build on Lauren Whitty’s 2016 efforts, reaffirming connections with companies and securing them for the 2017 event.

I hope this offers you some valuable networking advice, especially if you are a student or new to the industry. It’s hard to overcome anxiety to put yourself out there and network, but follow these top tips and take a big deep breath and you’ll be well on your way to nailing networking events!

If you’ve got any questions don’t hesitate to pop them into the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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