by Alane Trafford | January 01, 2012

Young people tend to have the skills that senior-level meeting professionals and suppliers need to keep up with changing times. But convincing a hiring manager that they're right for the job can be a challenge for Millennials.

M&C asked Dawn Penfold, president of and a 25-year industry veteran, to share her insights about the current and future needs of the meetings industry, and how young people can become a vital part of it.

What qualities are companies looking for in an entry-level planner?
They want someone who has a proven track record for being a hard worker.

What type of degree is best for those who want a job in this industry?
It's not the type of degree that is most important, but the experience they got in college. Have they planned any events? Were they involved in fraternities or student government? Hiring officials like people with work experience, especially in meeting management.

How important is experience with social media and other technology?
It's essential, because most of the time the hirer doesn't have that experience. Applicants should put a lot of emphasis on their tech expertise. But they can't just lean on that; they need to show they know logistics, are task-oriented, and are willing to work long hours. This is not about what the candidate wants; it's all about what they can do for the employer.

What do young meeting planners in particular bring to the table?
They often bring energy and knowledge of social media and technology. What they are not bringing to the table is that attitude of doing whatever it takes to get the job done. That's where the older planners are excelling, because that's how they were raised.

What are the most common mistakes young job seekers make?

First, not showing enough energy during an interview, and lacking good interview skills in general. Standard techniques are still important, like sending a thank-you note written by hand — not an e-mail — after the interview.

The second mistake is not networking well enough. They need to understand the importance of calling your uncle's cousin who happens to be a meeting planner and setting up an informational interview. They depend too much on social media rather than face-to-face contact.

The third mistake is not being willing to work hard. There are too many candidates who ask, “What do you mean I have to work weekends?” or “What do you mean I have to go to Cleveland on a Saturday?” And when they do go the extra mile, they expect comp time in return. They're not showing that they want to pay their dues, but this is still a pay-your-dues industry.

What other tips can you give to job seekers in this industry?
Network both through social media and face-to-face. Start working on your networking and job search skills when you're in your sophomore year of college. Have a professional résumé, have a professional look and get as much work experience as possible.

How will young meeting planners change the industry?
When I started in this industry 25 years ago, my generation's job was to bring it up to a new level — and we did. Before, meetings were done with a handshake and a nod; we made the process more strategic. The new generation must bring meetings to a new level to keep the industry alive.