Researching Employers at Trade Shows
Trade Shows are a wealth of information all in one place!
Trade shows are set up for potential buyers, but can be great for you because:
- Massive amounts of product/service and company information are available all in one place.
- Company employees staffing the booths expect to answer questions from and hold discussions with strangers.
- If you are interested in a specific industry, you can quickly assess that industry through multiple conversations and find a wide variety of organizations involved in that field.
How to Find Trade Shows
Trade shows are easy to find—organizers seek as much publicity as possible so try several different ways:
- Look on industry association web sites.
- Visit company web sites to see where they are exhibiting and/or speaking.
- Do an online search using key terms (see below for examples).
- Get on the mailing list for an event organizing firm in an industry that interests you.
Trade Shows Vary Considerably So Find the Ones that Can Help You
The phrase "trade show" is used to refer to one time special events with multiple organizations exhibiting their products and/or services. Trade shows range from large, expensive B2B conferences with exhibit halls to consumer-oriented fairs.
For example, entering "wireless" and "trade shows" in a search engine resulted in a listing for the international CTIA annual conference and trade show held in Las Vegas, April 1-3, 2009 with 1,000 exhibitors and 40,000 attendees. Cost for a three day exhibit only pass was $150 for non-members.
Although many conferences require at least a full day commitment, CTIA allows exhibit hall pass purchasers to add an educational session for $30, so it would have been worthwhile to check the schedule for interesting topics or speakers. Most presenters stay after the talk for a few minutes to chat with attendees and exchange business cards so you may be able to make a valuable connection.
If you find an interesting event too late to attend, check out the exhibitor list online. Many conferences link their exhibitor lists to those organizations' web sites so it is a great collection of industry participants.
Looking for an Event in a Hot Area—Solar?
Search on "solar" and "trade shows" pops up solar equipment manufacturer's web site www.sunwize.com which lists 11 consumer oriented trade shows for 2009. For example, the Midwest Renewable Energy Association will hold its Energy Fair June 19-21, 2009 in Custer, WI. The exhibitor list totals 225 organizations ranging from local colleges to companies and the entrance fee is only $15.
The solar industry also has its business to business conferences, one of which is the Solar Power 09 International conference to be held in Anaheim, CA Oct 27-29, 2009. Exhibit hall passes cost $100 with options to purchase tickets to networking events. However, the exhibit hall is open free to the public Wednesday evening for three hours. The trade-off is that the free time will probably be much more crowded so you may not be able to network as effectively with the employees staffing the booths.
Maximize the Value of Your Attendance with Advance Preparation
There are options for lowering the costs of attending these events. First, most trade shows charge students a lower rate—ask to see if you qualify. Some use volunteers to help with logistics so a call to the organization may get you a free pass in return for a time commitment.
To maximize the value of attending a trade show:
- Check out the companies exhibiting before you go.
- Print out the floor plan and map out your visits by priority and location.
- Take a bag for literature and a notebook for recording key information.
Trade shows can be overwhelming and hard on the feet. Determine the dress code for the event and dress at that level or one step up, but be sure your shoes are comfortable.
While the employees staffing the booth may not be potential bosses, you want to create a good impression so you can ask them for referrals to hiring managers within the company.
Try to tour the floor while most attendees are in sessions. The booth staff will have more time to speak with you. After all, their priority is potential customers, not job seekers.
Start each conversation by saying that you are interested in the company and/or the industry so they know that you have done some research. Ask what is new with the product line or company to help establish rapport before you ask any questions with negative connotations such as "I understand the company was unprofitable last year. How is the company doing this year?" or "Your market share dropped recently. What's going on now?"
As always, thank them, collect their business cards, and ask if you can follow up with more questions or a referral.
Follow Up Quickly After the Show
If you found organizations that interest you, contact the booth staff that you met and ask for referrals to the appropriate hiring managers. Or utilize your networking skills to contact employees at the firm. Either way, use the knowledge you acquired at the trade show to demonstrate your interest in the company.
© Copyright 2009 Parmelee Eastman. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
About this author...
Parmelee Eastman is president of EastSight Consulting which helps provide more effective utilization of external information in internal decision-making processes. EastSight Consulting clients range from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. Prior to founding EastSight, Parmelee was the vice president of the global technology and communications practice at Fuld & Company and employed for 16 years at Digital Equipment Corporation. Parmelee holds a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School. She can be reached at email@example.com.