If you’re attending SHRM 2010, don’t waste your time, or your dime.

Use this opportunity to learn something new, make new connections, land that next gig, get those new clients – whatever is truly on your mind as your Next Big Step. With a conference this big, attracting so many HR Pros and business leaders, you have the perfect opportunity to do what you want. But don’t show up, expect to be spoon-fed training, and leave. That would be a big waste.

I once landed my dream job at a National SHRM conference. I was working in a small town, disconnected from other opportunities, and I knew I wanted a bigger platform to do my thing. So since the SHRM National conference was being held nearby, I set my sights high. I decided I was going to walk out of the conference with at least three funny stories, fifteen new friends, two major job leads, and thirty-five non-vendor-related business cards. I asked a friend, who wasn’t attending, to help me keep score every morning – and I went to work. Here’s how I did it.

  • I spent time on the SHRM bulletin boards before the conference, getting to know some people and arranging for a meetup or two.
  • I went alone, so no one could bust my momentum or distract me from my goal.
  • I came up with a loose elevator speech explaining what I’d done up to that point, what I was looking to do, and my goals for the conference. This was important – it helped get strangers at the conference “on my team” and they introduced me to lots of their friends and invited me to parties.
  • I made myself show up. I went to every party, every luncheon, every large class I heard of. I also, frankly, crashed a party or two – sorry SHRM Best Small Companies partygoers, that was me with the lampshade on my head.
  • I applied for jobs through the SHRM on-site job board, and asked to meet with company interviewers during the conference. This is actually what did it for me. I was in the computer room and saw that Dream Job had JUST been posted. I quickly shot an email out outlining why I was The One and asking to visit immediately. The recruiter, Shannon Maroney of HR Backbone,  introduced herself, and we talked right there! We immediately clicked, and over the course of the next couple of days, she and I got to know each other much better. I told her about my goals for the SHRM conference and we attended a couple of the same parties. On the last day of the conference, I took her to lunch and to the airport. By the time she introduced me to her client, she was comfortable selling me as the best possible match to Dream Company’s CEO.

I know SHRM National is about more than networking. The seminars are great and you can learn a great deal just by listening. But if you are one of the attendees who goes to every seminar, takes notes, and then watches bad cable in your hotel room all night, you are REALLY missing out.  There’s no reward for being a wallflower.  You don’t need to be me, totally goal-focused and intent, but you do need to stretch yourself.  HR is an isolating and often depressing job. Use this time to make some new friends and have a laugh or two.  If you don’t, you may be wasting your time.