Career Fairs are like playoff games. They’re not the finals, but are just as important, if not more. You’re meeting actual people from different companies, not just emailing their general email addresses, talking about who you are and what you are passionate about and making key connections to people who could potentially change your life. No pressure.
While career fairs are important, the most important thing to do is be prepared. Be prepared for questions, resume requests and anything that could be thrown at you.
Before a career fair, this is what you need to do:
- Research who will be attending. Make a game plan of companies you know you need to get to and get a feel of what kind of industries will be in attendance.
- Print out resumes and business cards. You don’t need to bring enough that would deforest the entire world, but anywhere from 10-15 copies should do the trick. You give a resume out when asked, don’t just shove it in their faces as soon as you shake hands. Business cards are easy because the employer isn’t walking out with a stack of resumes to review and business cards have the most important information all on one little rectangle: your name, email, phone number, website, and title (or major).
- With that being said, edit, double edit and triple edit your resume. You don’t want to be handing out an out of date resume or one with so many spelling mistakes that they just stop reading. Write the best resume of your life; make it simple, but don’t be afraid to show off your personality with a cool design.
- Pick out a business casual outfit the night before. You don’t want to be rushing in the morning to get dressed. Also, make sure to iron anything the night before; it will save you time and make you feel more put together. Pay close attention to the dress code. Most of the time, it will be business attire or business casual, so it’s important to know what that means as well as what the differences are between the two.
- Bring some kind of folder or place to save business cards. You will be given tons of business cards or materials throughout the fair. Make sure you have a safe place to keep them so that they don’t get lost or damaged. If you need to, bring a pen and write on each of the cards to remind yourself who each person is.
During a career fair, don’t forget to:
- Introduce yourself with a firm handshake. Cliche, but it will make an impression. I learned at a young age that your handshake represents who you are. A firm handshake says that you are hardworking, caring and attentive. You want to give the right message to whomever you are introducing yourself to. You’ll also notice that their handshake will be firm too.
- Know who you are talking to. These recruiters are trained to interview and quiz people at a moment’s notice. If you’re reaching out to a specific company or organization, know what you like about that organization. I met an internship coordinator for a museum at a career fair, and he asked me what I specifically liked about the museum and how I would use my skills to improve their communications department. Needless to say, it threw me for a loop because this was a few minutes into our conversation, but I also was able to give a concise, intelligent answer because I did my research prior to the event.
- Walk up to recruiters by yourself. It’s a little nerve-wracking to introduce yourself to someone that has a higher standing than you, especially someone you would want to emulate in your own career, but if you attack one person in a group, they will feel overwhelmed and you will not be able to get much individual attention. Yes, recruiters are there to meet prospective employees or interns, but it’s your job to introduce yourself to them. They don’t have to give you a job, but you do have to prove that you deserve the job.
- Make personal connections. If you did your research, you would know if you and a recruiter attended the same college, had the same upbringing or are passionate about the same issues. Make that connection with them, because then you will stand out and be memorable. You don’t want to be remembered as that one girl in a black blazer, not just because there will be tons of girls in black blazers, but also because connections are so important in the job search.
- Try to meet everyone. You might run out of time, but you should strive to meet everyone that is in your industry. You never know what kind of connection you could make or if you could meet your mentor.
After a career fair, you really need to:
- Send out thank you emails. Do this within 24 hours after the career fair. Your name will (hopefully) be fresh in their minds and it also shows that you care. Recruiters will NOT be emailing you first; it’s your job to do this. Thank them for taking the time to speak to you during the event; make sure to point out details from your conversation, and remind them who you are and what you want from them.
- Write out notes about who you contacted for what position at what time, etc. Keeping detailed notes will make you organized in the long run. You will know who you need to follow up with if you do not get a response.
- If you were unable to go to the booth of a company you were interested in, email them as well. It shows that you know you made a mistake, but are still interested in discussing a possible future with them. Like before, do this within 24 hours of the event.
- If you received any advice or criticism, address it. If a recruiter told you that you need more writing experience, look for contributing writer positions; if they said to take a specific class to have a specific skill like photoshop or Final Cut Pro, take a class. They told you to do something for a reason, so you should do it. Having additional relevant skills can only help you in the future.
- Consider this event to be another trial run and plan for the next one. Depending on your school’s reoccurence of this kind of event, you should continue to prepare for the next networking event. Look into networking events for your major, industry or career field. Don’t limit yourself to just school career fairs; attend events put on by other organizations as well. Be proactive with your job search and preparation.
Don’t get me wrong. While career fairs are extremely important and professional, you should still have some fun. It’s exciting to take steps towards your career and meet people who are passionate about the same thing you are. Make connections. Regardless if a job pans out or not, you are still meeting someone important that could help you sometime in your future. Remember, be prepared. It’ll be the best thing you can do.