What most people tend to forget is that we build a personal network of contacts that we should be able to use no matter the changes in our career, or the career changes of our contacts. We should connect to people, not with their current positions or companies. These can change even in a few months (which actually happens more and more in our endless opportunities and dynamic world). And another thing we tend to forget is that nobody likes at a conference to feel hunted for his/ her position. A great person is great in any professional position, so your interest should not change if he/she works somewhere else.
I do network without a clear purpose at the time of the conference. I just like to meet new interesting people. And I like to connect with them, make them remember me, without wanting something from them. Sometimes I just give first, without asking for something. Of course, sooner or later I have ideas on how to benefit from the contacts I have - but that becomes just a way to maintain the relation over time. Is just like connecting the dots later on.
So my advice:
- You are not just X Manager at Y company. You are more complex. And you might have different needs in the future than the needs you have now. So don't waste opportunities for the future just because you think they are not useful for now.
- He/ she is not just Z Manager at W company. He/ she is more complex. They might change their field/ company anytime. They might have parallel cool projects, or hobbies...
- Keep yourself curious. Explore. Get inspired.
- Make yourself pleasant, human. Don't make them feel as if you hunt them for their positions.
- Be yourself. You are a person, not a business card.