Attend, Attend, Attend
For most interns, summer associates and new hires, the need to balance multiple priorities is the factor that most distinguishes life as a student from their summer work experience. At school students follow a fairly rigid class schedule. From week to week the calendar doesn’t vary dramatically. At work recruiters fill interns and summer associates’ days with an array of ever-changing assignments and training opportunities. Then they make life just that much more challenging by extending invitations to social events that sound like a heck of a lot of fun, but they’ll definitely take participants away from work.
Too often summer hires decide to demonstrate their commitment to work by skipping social activities. Don’t make this mistake. Every activity to which you have been invited serves as an important venue for you to improve and enhance your visibility. Hiring committees use these activities to see how you interact in social settings—something that’s expected of many professionals like partners in consulting and law firms. How well (or poorly) you perform at these events may well determine whether you’ll receive a coveted offer.
When it comes to these business-social events, demonstrate that you’re an up-and-coming professional by following some basic rules of business etiquette.
Respond quickly to invites & RSVP
As soon as you are invited to an event, check your calendar and confirm your availability. If an RSVP is requested (“Please RSVP by emailing Mike Barnes in HR”), follow up and indicate whether or not you will attend. Note: an RSVP requires all invitees—both those who plan to attend and those who do not—to communicate with the host of hostess. An invitation that requests “regrets only” asks only those invitees who will not attend to communicate.
Once you have indicated that you will attend an event, only an absolute emergency excuses your absence. Understand that your host or hostess will purchase food and beverage based upon the responses he or she receives. Please do not expect them to spend money needlessly. It is extremely rude to skip out on a reception that you’ve agreed to attend. (By the way, skipping out on receptions and training events is the #1 complaint I receive from recruiting departments.)
Ask the recruiting department for a list of other invited guests and undertake some quick research. Seek out any commonalities and shared interests you may share. Identify those guests who attended the law or business school where you are currently enrolled. That connection can serve as a starting point for a conversation. Similarly, if you happen to love opera and discover a guest sits on the board of the city opera, you’ve identified a shared interest that can serve as a unique opening for building a relationship.
Identify some “goal people,” two or three guests you specifically wish to meet. These may be members of the hiring committee. Alternatively, they may be junior employees, who can provide special insights into the organization’s culture (do they walk the talk when it comes to work-life balance), or employees in other departments or practice areas, who can provide unique insights into other work opportunities.
Develop a handful of questions that you can ask virtually anyone: What practice group do you work in? What do you like most about the company or firm? What’s the most exciting project you’ve tackled? Have you always lived in San Francisco? Outside of work, what do you do in your spare time? Do you have summer vacation plans? Where will you go?
For those of us who are introverts, these questions can be invaluable. They focus attention on the person with whom you are speaking and divert it from you. Just remember, if they’re speaking, you don’t need to. And here’s a bonus: if the other person happens to be an extrovert, once you shine the light on them, they’ll view you as a brilliant conversationalist.
Manage the event
Arrive on time. This is particularly important for introverts. If you arrive on time, you’ll likely find only a few other guests already present. Trust me, walking into a room with five or six people is far less intimidating than walking into a room filled with 40 or 50.
Find the host or hostess—this may be someone in the recruiting department or, if the event takes place in a partner’s home, it’s that partner and his or her spouse/significant other—and thank him/her for the invitation. Then walk over to the bar, request a beverage, wrap the beverage in a napkin, and carry it away in your left hand.
This tactic works on so many levels. While you wait in line to request a beverage you may encounter someone with whom you can have your first conversation. Additionally, you can use this time to scope out the room and determine whether an identified “goal person” is present.
However, here’s the most important reason to grab a beverage: it gives you something to do with your hands. As long as you have something in your hands, you will hold your hands at waist-level, a stance that helps make you look more welcoming and approachable.
As to beverage selection, I’d prefer you stick to water, soda, or a glass of wine or beer. If you choose the latter, nurse your one glass of wine or beer throughout the entirety of the event. Skip cocktails made with high-octane alcohol and save these for more informal, purely social (away from work) events.
Do feel free to grab something to nibble. However, at any one time, grab either a beverage OR something to eat . . . never both. Always keep your right hand free to shake the hands of other guests.
The morning after each summer social event, invest 30 minutes in some follow-up. At a very minimum, do the following:
Send a thank-you email to the people in recruiting. This should take you less than a minute and will position you as a class act. Note how much you enjoyed the event and appreciate the department’s efforts.
Send an email to any key contact you made. Convey how much you enjoyed the conversation you had. If you broached a subject and there’s much more to be said, suggest a follow-up coffee or lunch.
If the event was held at someone’s home, without exception, follow-up with a handwritten thank-you note to the host and/or hostess. Someone—a spouse or significant other—likely invested a huge amount of time ensuring you felt welcomed and comfortable. Sincerely and graciously acknowledge their efforts.
What You Need To Know
Summer associates, interns and new hires should attend every business-social event to which they’re invited. These events give you an important opportunity to make contacts and to position yourself as an up-and-coming professional.
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