American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2015      CAREERS

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The ABCs of Networking

by Cody Bair

Reprinted from The Student Slate, Spring 2015

Cody BairFrom the Editor: In today's market, jobseekers must master a host of skills beyond proficiency in their chosen field. Networking at conferences and job fairs is filled with pitfalls and possibilities. In this article Cody Bair, an accounting major at Northern Colorado University, suggests ways for blind jobseekers to negotiate networking events with aplomb. As the winner of two NFB National Scholarships (2012 and 2013), Cody is a tenBroek Fellow.

Is it vital that you attend various networking events in order to attain the job you want when you finish college? Have you ever stressed out and worried for hours about how to navigate and fully participate in said busy events as a blind individual? If so, please read on for tips on how to make the most of such events. As an accounting major, I have participated in dozens of networking events. Although at the beginning of my college career I was extremely intimidated by them, I have learned to make such events enjoyable and productive. I hope these five tips will mitigate your stress level and make you excited to be a part of such events.

1. Plan ahead. Before you go to a networking event, it is crucial that you do some planning. Find out if there is a list of prospective employers who will be there or a map detailing the layout of the room. It is crucial that you prioritize whom you want to talk to and attempt to go in that order, as you often will be crunched for time. Also, conduct research about the companies that you are interested in so you can ask educated questions. If a map of the layout of the room is available to you before the event, it would be extremely helpful to have someone explain to you the location of the companies you want to visit. This information will help you find them more efficiently.

2. Come organized. Some networking events require you to have business cards or copies of your résumé available to hand to prospective employers. While this may sound tremendously easy, it can get tricky when you want to tailor your résumé to a particular employer or group of employers. For example, you might place the employer's name in the "Objective" line of the résumé. As you can imagine, nothing could be more embarrassing than giving the wrong résumé to a potential employer! Therefore, it is extremely important that you organize your portfolio. One way to do this is to Braille the potential employer's name on one corner of the résumé paper. While this method can be effective, it is imperative to have someone take a look after you Braille on the paper to ensure that the Braille does not adversely affect the print. I prefer to Braille the name of each employer on an index card, paperclip the card to the résumé, and remove the paperclip and index card before giving the résumé to the prospective employer.

3. Navigate the event. It is critical that you can navigate a networking event effectively. By moving about with ease you will send the message to prospective employers that you are confident in yourself. Although networking events can be crowded and a little overwhelming at times, it is not impossible for you to navigate them by yourself. I've gotten confused about where I am in the room numerous times, but I have found that people have always been willing to direct me to where I want to go. After all, the purpose of said events is networking. Asking for directions should be viewed as an excellent opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with people you wouldn't have had the opportunity to know otherwise.

4. Manage your business cards. After networking events you usually will come home with a massive stack of business cards. Due to the fast pace, I have found it impossible to keep the cards organized while I'm at the event. Upon returning home I place the cards on a scanner one at a time and scan them, using the Kurzweil 1000 program. I create a spreadsheet that lists each person's name, position, company, phone number, and email address. If scanning the cards is too time-consuming for your liking, you could complete the same process through the use of a human reader. It is important that you deal with the business cards the day after the event, as following up with individuals whom you meet at networking events in a timely manner is often crucial. While it may be easier to obtain such contact information through the use of a human reader, I prefer to spend the time scanning it immediately after I arrive home. This allows me to send thank-you emails on the same night.

5. Follow up. The most important part of a networking event is to follow up with the people you meet and with whom you are interested in seeking employment, to thank them for the time they spent talking with you at the event. There is a myth that handwritten thank-you notes are preferable, but I have always found it preferable simply to type up a well-written email. I believe this method is ideal, as the note reaches its recipient the instant you send it. Thus the recipient will read it while you are still fresh in his or her mind.

If you follow these networking tips, they should change your fear of networking events to a sense of excitement. They will play an intricate role in helping you attain the career of your dreams--a career that will allow you to live the life you want.

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