I've been sitting in on the virtual Microsoft Career Conference all day today, and it's been an interesting experience. This is my first all-day virtual conference—the goal seems to be to create as much of a conference-like feel from within your computer. There are a number of keynotes and workshops going on (which you can sign up for and will display in your agenda), and there are social rooms where you can network with other like-minded individuals.

There are also a few strengths to the virtual conference. One obvious one is the flexibility to tend to other tasks in between sessions right in the office. Additionally, it's a plus to have easy access to information about the speakers, or to be able to jump in between sessions without feeling rude.

The biggest drawback is probably that it doesn't quite feel like a conference. Maybe it's because it's my first virtual conference, but I think it's just a matter of still being in my same chair, at the same office, in the same city. It's hard to be in "conference mode."

However, my biggest pain point is not this disconnected feeling, but the repeated technical difficulties we've been having in the conference. Through discussions with other attendees, I've  clarified that these issues are not specific to me. We've had frequent technical delays in getting each talk started, and one of the talks (after about 30 minutes of delays) had such horrible audio quality that you could only make out a small percentage of the words! This has been a frustrating experience and I'm planning on contacting Microsoft to find out more about it.

Despite all this, the speakers have been very good, and there have been some very practical tips. Plus, at $50 for the whole day (and no travel expenses), the price is definitely right. Below are quick summaries of the sessions I've attended thus far.

Session 1: Career Essentials: Tips on Enhancing your Career

For this first session, I came in at the tail end and only got about half of it. But there were a few really interesting points I gleaned:

  1. Almost every successful executive has very clear personal and private goals in both the short and long term. What are your goals for this year, and beyond? Consider having an accountability partner to hold you to your goals (and the micro-goals in between).
  2. Connect with others by joining relevant communities, building communities, and using social networking. Don't just "exist" on these communities—be a producer of content, opinions, thoughts. That's what'll kickstart relationships.
  3. Prioritize tasks that are taking up a lot of your time, such as email. Have a process for how you flag email so you can easily sort out what you have to respond to now, what's important but not urgent, and what's unimportant.
  4. If you're at the uphill climb of your career, consider finding a mentor. If you're the converse, consider finding a mentee. (Note: I wasn't able to find any IT-specific services for connecting mentors, so consider looking to local MeetUp groups, conferences, or people you already know.)

Session 2: Career Essentials: Interview with a Very “Connected” College Student

This session focused on tips for getting started in IT. Unfortunately, this was the one with the audio quality issues, so I only got a few nuggets out of it:

  1. Build a LinkedIn profile now. It's never too late or early to start. If nothing else, LinkedIn will serve as a growing list of your contacts throughout your career. But it might just be the source of your next great job. (Related: LinkedIn: IT Pro Friend or Foe?)
  2. Think about how "you" as a brand looks to others. Don't be afraid to make your personal interests and identity known both through social media or through the workplace—in many ways, your personal identity is what sets you apart. However, be sure that your interests and extracurricular activities promote the image you want to convey, and be discreet about those qualities and events that don't.

Session 3: You’re Hired! How to Get That Job and Keep it Too

This session was a keynote that focused on three things: (1) finding your purpose, (2) getting the job you want, and (3) achieving success in your career. Key takeaways for me include:

  1. The speaker, Nasha Fitter, used an analogy of your career as a symphony and each job as a note in that symphony. The point being, don't be shortsighted and only worry about your next or current job. Think about your overall pursuits and goals in your professional life, and how each job serves as a stepping stone toward those goals.
  2. There were lots of practical job seeking tips, such as: keep your resume short and sweet, have an opinion about topics (your industry, the company you're interviewing with), have some interesting stories/examples prepared ahead of time (but make sure you don't ramble too long), and always speak positively. (Related: Top 5 Resume Tips)
  3. To be successful in the long term, you need five key things: clever work, which means being smart/creative; hard work; a passion for your job; relationships (deep connections, not just shallow connections); and luck. The first four you can control, so don't sweat the fifth one too much!

I have a few more sessions left for the day, including IT employment trends for 2011 and more about an Exchange Certified Master certification.

Send me an email or grab me on Twitter if you have any further questions about the conference.

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