As I find myself with only 3 semesters left (I can see the light!), I become more and more excited to start looking for a job after graduation. Job fairs, meeting those in different companies, and conferences now become necessary as face-time with potential employers is key. As a busy college student, I could always claim that I didn’t have enough time to go to some of the more well-known aviation networking conferences, but this year I have the opportunity to attend one such conference – the 2015 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention and Exhibition.
Other than being a massive conference with the opportunity to meet people from every part of the industry, it’s also a great way expand your professional network. Now, at first blush, networking takes a lot of effort and “putting yourself out there”. It seems intimidating, exhausting, and time-consuming – and you would be right. However, networking pays off in more ways you could imagine. In addition to covering my time here at the NBAA conference, I’ll give some tips on how to effectively network.
To go or not to go???
Like many college students, traveling during the semester (especially with only a handful of weeks left) is often tenuous at best considering you miss a week of class, requires budgeting in advance, but at the end is worth making those necessary contacts for your professional career. Aviation is one of those fields that makes the world seem extremely small as you often find so-and-so knows your friend who flies for a regional airline, who flies for that same company, and so it goes. Conferences like NBAA connect you with people and companies from all over the country – even all over the world. Companies come to advertise their products, put together business deals, close business deals, and look for potential new talent. Now, I don’t know about you, but taking one week off of class with the potential of making life-long connections and finding a possible employer is already starting to make the trip look worth it.
Registration is very straightforward – depending on the level of access you need, NBAA has various “packages”. I got the student access which includes the exhibitor’s hall, the static displays of aircraft, and access to 100+ classes. It’s an $80 value (much cheaper than the regular package for non-students), but there are often discount codes given out that can bring that cost to $0 (saving money!). Students, be sure to check with the faculty from your department to see if they have been given a discount code.
As I sit on my flight writing this (yay, technology!), I find myself getting caught up in the excitement akin to that you feel when you go to Oshkosh for the country’s largest airshow – I’ll probably see people I know from UND, and get to make many new acquaintances from all over the country. In addition, I’m excited that I can start scouting out the companies I might want to work for in the future, in addition to meeting the women who are involved in Women in Corporate Aviation (WCA). I was debating a lot at the beginning of the semester whether or not to take the time off to attend when I decided to crowdsource a female pilot group on social media – I got many responses within hours saying how much of a benefit the conference would be to a young professional. I also “met” Lisa (through social media then email) from WCA who put me in contact with a graduate student from Purdue University who I’ll be sharing a hotel room with along with another student. Now I have a great new group to network with, a group of ladies to attend events with at the conference, and a way to split money for lodging! That’s just the beginning of networking! Still think networking is difficult and not worth the trouble?
Preparing to Attend…
Ok, so now you’ve got some new friends to attend with, a group that has taken you under their wing, and a place to stay – but, that’s not all you need before you board your flight. Find someone in a professional group that’s attending (like a professor from your school) who can give you some tips about the conference. I know a few professors from UND’s Aerospace faculty that are attending and that have a lot of good tips to share. I also emailed Lisa from WCA prior to ask a few questions: what should an attendee wear, resumes or business cards, what events I should expect to participate in with WCA, and other such questions.
Lisa’s advice is to wear a button-down shirt with nice pants, a nice sweater, or if you want, a full suit (many wear full suits, but it’s not mandatory). In addition to the day-time activities, there are many receptions that are much smaller and more intimate that companies host separately. Those are more casual, so brining some fun clothes, like a dress, casual pants, shoes, etc. are perfectly acceptable. Guys and gals: bring your comfy, but business-appropriate shoes! Ladies, unless you can be on your feet all day in high heels, ditch them for comfortable, dressy flats. Men, same goes for you – wear your comfortable loafers, boots, etc. The conference has hundreds of booths and that means lots of walking.
Business cards are often used more than resumes at this conference, but sometimes potential companies will have you send your resume after the fact – just be sure to remember to do that! WCA in particular has a luncheon during the week that I will be attending with the women I will be meeting at NBAA. They don’t have to be fancy, just with the pertinent information for students, or your professional card if you are currently working for a company – I am fortunate enough to have both; one for my UND job, and my personal cards. In addition to carrying business cards, carry a wallet or a small clutch with your necessary items. Part of your conference package is a bag, so you can put your items in that to carry around.
Lastly, it’s important to be mentally prepared for attending such a conference in a professional manner. For example, I am attending as a student of UND. One of our professors admonished us to remember that we represent the University at all times. This means conducting ourselves in a professional manner – no matter what the setting. Many of the receptions have free alcohol, etc. that is free to attendees. However, it is important to limit yourself to whatever you partake in as you still represent a professional organization. Your University’s reputation, or that of your company, is at stake because you may be the only employee or student another person interacts with your organization. You only get one first impression and it’s important to make it a good one.
Pictures From Thus Far…
Fellow attendees, be sure to visit Globalair’s booth at NBAA 2015!
That’s all for now! Next week, Part 2!