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Career Coach: It’s Showtime

Joe Strike sets out to find out how independent animators find work within the system while keeping their independence.

There is a trade show, conference or festival every month. Next month there's the SIGGRAPH s004 conference in Los Angeles, ( and this month there's the Comic-Con Int'l in San Diego. A show may look like a carnival, but if you are prepared, a trade show can be a turning point in your career. You can meet prospective employers, learn about other companies, learn new technologies and skills, and meet industry leaders. To get the most out of this opportunity, prepare as if you are preparing for a marathon, especially if you are traveling out of town for several days.

Before the Show

The more work you do before you go, the more you'll get out of the show when you get there.

Find out as much as you can about the show before you go. Many have Websites. Some post their exhibitors with links to the exhibitors' Websites. Find out as much as you can about the exhibitors. Make a list of the exhibitors you are especially interested in seeing.

Review the special needs of your company or business beforehand so you can keep an eye out for those products or services that can meet those needs.

Read all the materials you receive prior to the show regarding seminars and events so you don't miss something important. Learn about the event speakers. Usually the pre-show mailer will include short bios of the speakers and descriptions of the sessions. There may be some you'll want to meet.

Register before the show to save time in registration lines. You can often get a discount for early registration so take advantage of it.

Some shows send maps ahead of time. Plan your route. Use a highlighter to mark those exhibitors who are essential to see.

Create a daily schedule or itinerary for your show visit including events, seminars and appointments. Remember, it is difficult and time consuming to meet other attendees at the show. Appointments should be with exhibitors or others who will be at a specific place.

A few days before you leave, reconfirm your travel and hotel reservations to avoid last minute problems. If possible, arrive a day early to avoid jetlag and get rested before the show.

Arrange a specific time you will call the home office. A regularly scheduled call will allow those back home to collect your messages before you call and prepare their questions and concerns. This will help keep the calls short so you can get back to the show.

At the Show

WHAT YOU NEED: Bring a spiral bound notepad and extra pens. Get a good night's rest and eat well before you get there. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Empty your purse and wallet of all non-essentials before you go to the show. Don't lug unneeded stuff around with you.

Pack several large pre-addressed mailing envelopes to mail literature home. Bring your shipping account information as well.

Bring a light empty bag or backpack to carry collected materials during the show.

Bring a snack of fruit and a sports bottle to keep you going. Most shows have food but you may not want to stand in line. You can snack on the stuff you brought during a demo.


Familiarize yourself with the transportation routes to the hospitality suites prior to any appointment.

Stay focused on the purpose of your attendance. Don't get distracted. If you came to see software demonstrations, don't spend time looking at irrelevant exhibits.

Get a show directory. These often include contact information in them and can be a valuable resource after you get home.

Don't take materials from exhibitors you have no interest in. Whatever you pick up you have to carry and it makes it harder to weed through your materials later. You can also order materials later. Collect the magazines when you leave.

If you are job hunting at a show, apply to the companies ahead of time if possible. Use the show to meet with those who have an interest in you. If there is a job center, post your résumé there as early as possible and provide plenty of copies. If you make 100 copies you usually get a price break. It's cheap and quick to make copies ahead of time. The business office at the convention center is usually busy and costly.

If you go with a friend, you can split up and get twice as much info. as you could going together to the same seminars, exhibits or screenings. You can exchange notes at night or when you return home.


If you are stuck in a long line at the show, strike up a conversation with those around you. It is a good opportunity to network.

Take a break from the floor every few hours. If you sit down to eat, sit near someone new. Network. Find out where other attendees are from and what they liked the most at the show. Exchange cards.

Bring plenty of business cards or leave-behinds (at least 100). A leave-behind could include your name, phone number and e-mail address as well as some samples of your work on a printed card.

If you have an interview appointment at the show with an employer, be on time. Don't keep them waiting or they will move on to the next appointment.

Many shows have hospitality suites in the evening after the show. Network, don't party. These people are potential business associates. Be sure you remain sober and friendly. Don't stay up late Ñ you'll be ineffective the next day.

After the Show

When you meet someone at the show and get a business card or flyer, note the date and show where you met. Enter those contacts you want to keep in your database and follow up with people you meet with a letter, e-mail or phone call.

Make notes of what you liked/didn't like about the show, anything you wish you did, but didn't get a chance to do. Record impressions of your hotel and restaurants with addresses and phone numbers and short reviews. This will help you when you attend the next trade show in that city.

Go through the piles of information you gathered as soon as possible after the show. File the information you want to keep in a place where you can find it and recycle the rest of the materials.

Ordering tapes of the speakers you missed can usually be done after the show.

Share the information you gathered at the show with those who could not attend. Write a report summarizing the action items you think your company should consider or things that you learned which could benefit your company. Presenting your report to your company is a savvy move, making it likely you'll get to go again.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter, career coach and management consultant. She will be speaking at SIGGRAPH on August 11 as part of the educator's program on résumés and demo reels. She produced the world-famous Career Boot Camp for computer animation and is a frequent speaker at trade shows and seminars. Her clients include Toy Box, World of Tomorrow, Disney, Fox, Simex Digital Studios, Lucas Learning and Digital Domain.