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How to Get the Most Out of College Career Fairs

By Alison Guillaume
Mar 2, 2016 3:00:00 PM

Congratulations! You’ve made it to your last semester of college. You’ve gotten through the exams, projects and internships and now you’re ready to go out and take on the world, right? You’re likely about to enter that next phase – finding the right career opportunity.

The good news is that the job market is currently very strong and employers are seeking talented college grads who can apply their knowledge and a fresh perspective in helping them achieve their business goals. And, now more than ever, employers are hitting the road and attending college career fairs to better connect with these soon-to-be graduates. So how can you take advantage of these college fairs and use them to maximum advantage in your search for a great job opportunity? 

Be Prepared!

Would you consider going on a job interview without preparing? Of course not! So you should treat career fair events in much the same way as you would an interview. But the great thing is that you’re interviewing with multiple companies all in one place! Here’s how you can prepare:

Proper attire. While some companies have become more casual these days, you should always wear business attire during career fair events. This means a suit or a jacket and pants/skirt. This is the case even if the company representatives and recruiters attending the event aren’t dressed up. You want your first impression to be professional, organized and put-together.

Have a plan. Obtain a list of the companies that will be in attendance at the fair. These can usually be obtained via the college career center website or from their office. Review this list to determine which companies you want to visit with and map out their locations; since most career fairs assign tables or booths to each employer, it should be easy to figure out where they are located within the career fair.

Most importantly, review the job opportunities that they have available so that you can be prepared for your conversations. If there is a specific job posted for which you possess the appropriate skillset and interest, send your resume over ahead of time so that your in-person meeting at the career fair becomes a follow up; this really elevates the discussion and shows that you are proactive.

Prepare specific questions about the available job opportunities that might include:

  • What does the hiring process look like?
  • What characteristics are important for the role?
  • How many candidates are they considering?

Develop your personal “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is typically a 20 second description of a company and the value that its product/service brings to customers. When you’re at a career fair or an interview, you’re trying to explain to a company why you are best suited for a particular job – in essence, you are trying to sell them on your skills and talents. So take some time to craft your own personal elevator pitch that will enable you to do just that. This might include information about leadership positions, athletics, GPA and internships.

During the Event…

With your preparation completed, you will be ready to confidently present yourself during the event. Here are some things to think about to maximize your time and get noticed:

Go solo. Career fairs are professional events and, as such, you should think of yourself as a professional rather than a student. This might put you out of your “comfort zone” and into situations where you will be meeting new people, trying to tell them why you are the best candidate for the role and their company.

In situations like these, we all have a natural inclination to want to stick with friends or a significant other. That said, it’s much more effective to “go solo” to ensure you maximize your time, are focused on your conversations and minimize distractions. Remember that in the professional world, you will be interacting with colleagues, networking at events and selling your ideas and talents to others. So you should take advantage of this opportunity and step outside of your comfort zone to achieve your career fair goals.

Less is more. Try not to have excess “stuff” with you. While it might seem like a good idea to bring along that iPad and a bottle of water, it can be overload when you have to get out your resume or shake hands with the recruiters. So ditch the extraneous items and make sure you have a portfolio with your resumes and business cards (if you have them).

The details are important. First impressions really are important, especially when you might only have a few minutes to speak with each company representative. So walk right up to the booth, introduce yourself and firmly shake hands. And be sure to stay on topic during your discussions – always keep it relevant.

Feel free to take notes on the career fair brochure or catalog. You will often see the recruiters jotting down notes on your business card (if you provide one) to indicate a few details about the discussion; you can take the opportunity to do the same if they provide you with their business card, as well.

Sell yourself and be honest. This is your chance! These companies want to hear about you and your accomplishments. So speak up and tell them about that internship project that helped the company streamline their process or market themselves better. Let them know that you were captain of your lacrosse team and discuss your involvement with that non-profit. All of these experiences will help to showcase not just your technical skills but also your “soft skills;” things like community involvement, leadership, and communication skills that are so crucial for companies to be successful. Discussions like these are way more important than words on a resume.

At the same time, remember that it’s important to be honest, especially if you’re not familiar with a specific job opportunity or a topic that they might ask you about. Just be honest and let the company representative know that you aren’t sure but want to learn more.

Oh, and fun tip: pick yourself up some SWAG. Most of the companies in attendance will offer up some cool stuff like pens, travel mugs, photo booths, etc. And some even have contests where you can win some really awesome prizes. So don’t miss out!

And last, but definitely not least: Follow up

Remember those business cards you received during the event? The ones upon which you jotted down a few notes about the person you spoke to? One way to really stand out after the career fair is to reach out to the company representative via email and mention a few key details of your discussion and thank them for their time.

Also be sure to follow the companies that you met with on social media – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. In addition to providing more insights about their job opportunities, you can learn a lot about company culture, leadership and the people who you might one day work with!

Do you have questions about preparing for career fairs or do you need assistance in locating your first job opportunity? Reach out to us at: solutions@eliassen.com.

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