Chances are that your college’s career center hosts a career fair every semester. Haven’t been to one? This is the semester to start going!
A career fair is an event in which representatives form companies looking for new interns or employees gather in one place to present information about the companies and their opportunities (convenient for you, right?). Career fairs present you with the opportunity to see what these organizations are all about. You can attend and prove that you could be a great addition to their companies! What better way to put yourself out there? Check out six things you need to do before going to a career fair.
1. Research the Companies
It’s important to prepare for a career fair the same way you would prepare for an exam. You need to do a little bit of studying! Know which companies are going to be at the fair before you walk in, and make sure you have an idea of what they’re all about. Remember: you need to know how a particular company runs in order to decide if it’s beneficial for you to intern or work there.
Doing your research will definitely make you stand out from the other students. “When students take the time to research companies, they can demonstrate the knowledge of a company when approaching the recruiters at the fair,” says Alicia Rodriguez, director of employer relations at the University of Miami’s career center. “Imagine the difference when approaching an employer and impressing him or her based on what you know about the company, as opposed to asking, ‘What does your company do?’”
Start off by looking around the company’s site and reading its mission statement. Then, search for the company on Google News to read about any recent happenings relating to the organization.
Researching companies beforehand gives you an edge because you’ll know exactly which opportunities will work for you, and you can impress potential employers with your knowledge.
2. Make a Map
Knowing which companies will be at the fair will also help you prioritize which prospects are most important to you. Check out your career center’s website to see if there is a list of the companies attending and a map of where their booths will be. It’s much easier to make an organized game plan that way, as one collegiette found.
“When I went to a career fair last semester, I made a list of companies I was most interested in,” says Christina, a senior majoring in psychology at Barnard College. “When I got there, I was given a map of the tables at the fair, so I marked the ones I wanted to go to before I went in. That way, I was able to make the most of my time at the career fair and get to all the companies I wanted to, and then I had time after to wander around and talk to other companies I was less interested in.”
You may be in college, but it’s never too late to use what Dora the Explorer taught you and bring along a trusty map!
3. Update Your Resume
Make sure you don’t walk into a career fair with an outdated resume that doesn’t show your current experience, education and accomplishments (meaning, no high school stuff!).
“An employer at a career fair has only a few seconds to glance at a resume,” says Darlene London Johnson, the senior associate director of Hofstra University’s career center. “Therefore, a clear and specific objective is helpful. As in any case, resumes should highlight a student's accomplishments and show the transferable skills gained from work, volunteer and community activities and extracurricular activities. Be sure to include extras like technology skills, language fluencies and other things that can be seen as an added bonus.”
You want your resume to show all that you’ve achieved during your time at college as well as how prepared you are to take the next step and have an internship or job. Why else have you been running around campus like a madwoman, investing your time in tons of extracurricular activities and pulling all-nighters on the reg?
You never know how big of an impression an awesome resume will leave, so always be prepared by carrying plenty of copies with you.
“Putting down your email for them is okay, but my successful offer happened because the person there put a star on the physical copy I handed her,” says Megan, a junior majoring in news and editorial journalism and political science at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Awesome opportunities can arise because your resume leaves an amazing first impression, so take the time beforehand to work on it and make it stellar.
4. Pick Out a Great Outfit
Showing up to a career fair and standing in front of company representatives in a wrinkly, stained dress shirt and shoes you wore to your middle school graduation is a definite no-no. You need to dress the part of a professional (think of it as a shopping spree opportunity!).
“There is a saying: ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression,’” Johnson says. “That is entirely true regarding what a student chooses to wear to a [career] fair. Dressing professionally lets an employer know that you know what it is like to be in a professional environment and that you really want to make that great first impression. It shows the seriousness of your intent. Dressing in a sloppy manner conveys an attitude of not caring, and that is not what an employer wants to see.”
You don’t have to wear a full-on Hillary-Clinton-style power suit, but looking classy and professional goes a long way in the eyes of employers. Try to dress the way you would for an interview. Make sure you try on your outfit in advance to avoid any last-minute panic when you realize your skirt’s zipper is broken or your top doesn’t look right with your pants 15 minutes before the career fair starts.
Don’t forget the details! If you think potential employers won’t notice the wrinkles in your shirt or that your nails have been destroyed by your lifelong nail-biting habit, think again!
“Students should pay attention to every detail, from shoes, makeup, hemline and nails,” Johnson says. “I had a recruiter tell me once that chipped nail polish was a big turnoff to her.”
5. Practice Your Networking Skills
Always be prepared for the number-one reason you’re at the career fair: to network! The entire point is to market yourself and make companies see why you would be their perfect intern or employee.
“Practice your elevator pitch!” Rodriguez says. “Imagine if you met your dream employer and you only had 30 seconds in an elevator ride with that person. How would you convey your brand in that short period of time? Make a great first impression by demonstrating passion for the industry you wish to pursue.”
If you need help with your elevator pitch, check out our tips for how to perfect it!
Half of networking is expressing professional mannerisms with whomever you meet at career fairs. And if you’re inexperienced in the basics, practice!
“A good handshake is the first step,” Johnson says. “Many students have never had to shake hands with someone and don't have a clue how. Practice shaking hands with people and ask for their feedback.” A strong handshake indicates confidence and power, so make sure you have a firm grip and you’re looking the representative in the eye.
In order to network effectively, confidence and friendliness is essential. This is your chance to win over potential bosses. Take advantage of this incredible opportunity!
6. Make Business Cards
Now that you know how to win over recruiters with your networking skills, know in advance how to make sure they remember your name.
Having a business card has a similar effect to having a LinkedIn account; it shows that you’ve taken the time to market yourself and are striving to be professional and fit into the working world. Likewise, taking the business card of a representative gives you a way to stay in contact and helps you follow up with him or her after the fair.
“Students should always take the business card from the company representative and write an email thanking that person for attending the fair with a copy of their resume attached for quick reference,” Johnson says.
Don’t have your own business cards? Read how to get your own here!
When the signs start popping up in the hallways about your college’s upcoming career fair, go! Study and prepare for the big day, because you never know what fabulous opportunities might be waiting for you.