If you have never visited your school’s career fair, then you are in for a real treat – or maybe an awakening. Dozens of employers all in one place seeking top talent like YOU. Or maybe your best friend, or your classmate…hmmm. How do we get those recruiters standing at the booth to take YOU seriously?? How do you stand out in a sea of black suits?
1. Map It Out
Your school should have a list of the employers attending the fair. This list includes company name, preferred student majors, available jobs or a general reference to internships vs. full time. READ THE LIST! Identify no more than 10 employers to target that are seeking your qualifications and match your interests. Bring your map with you to the fair.
A couple of considerations:
Internship vs. Full time. Decide in advance if you are looking for an internship (typically the following summer) or a full time position AFTER graduation. Internship recruitment happens much earlier in the school year than ever before. If you are a junior or younger, then Fall is the PERFECT time to find an internship. If you are a graduating senior, then ideally you have already had that internship and are planning for full-time employment. Don’t spend your time at the fair with employers who are not hiring for the type of job you are seeking. They will likely be back the following semester or you can follow up with them via your career center.
Small company vs. big company. There are pros and cons to both. Don’t feel that you should only target the firms that you have heard of before. Chances are they will have a line out the door and can afford to be very picky on the talent they are seeking. However, they will have great opportunities with more mobility and maybe comprehensive training programs. Smaller companies will enable you to make your mark earlier and really get to know the business. You are less likely to get lost at sea.
2. Cross-Reference Your Course
Now that you have narrowed your list of preferred employers, take the time to review other sites.
Your school’s online job posting system. Most employers will have upcoming on-campus interviews. Familiarize yourself with what they are interviewing for. Your goal is to have your resumé (and presence) stand out so that you will be preselected for an on-campus interview. It will IMPRESS an employer if you say, “I am very interested in X position that you are interviewing for on X date. I would like to learn more about the position and share more about my background and experience”. It will FRUSTRATE an employer if you ask, “What are you looking for?”
The target company’s website. Everything that you might want to ask an employer is likely on their website. Take the time to read recent news articles, know what they do (especially for smaller companies), get a feel for their culture. NEVER ask an employer what they do when all of that information is available online.
3. Attention on Deck!
Prepare your elevator pitch. You only need a few short, thoughtful sentences to introduce yourself to a recruiter at the booth. Start by being very clear about your year and major and what you are looking for.
“Hello my name is Karen, I am a junior finance major seeking an internship in corporate finance”. Next, acknowledge that you have done your research (step #2) above and reference particular open positions for you know they are interviewing for and would like to be considered. Third, give the recruiter one thing to remember you by. Anything that shows you are above the competition….”I am enrolled in 4 finance classes as a junior” or “I was able to obtain a relevant internship as a sophomore “ or “I work 20 hours a week during school to finance my education”.
Most importantly, don’t forget to smile. Your enthusiasm and confidence will go a long way to make a lasting impression.
Arrive ahead of schedule. As a former recruiter, I can tell you that career fairs are exhausting from our perspective. The first time I wore high heels at a fair all day, I thought I would die. We are much more alert and ready to speak with students who arrive first. Don’t worry that you will be forgotten by the end of the day. If you follow these steps to make a strong impression, then all others will pale in comparison.
Captain your own ship. Never walk the floor or talk to employers with your best friend. You are not going to get a job together. You must stand on your own merit and make your own way. If you do see a friend you haven’t seen in a while, then talk outside. And please, STAY OFF YOUR CELL PHONE in the fair.
The key to success at a career fair is preparation, confidence and independence. If you follow these tips, then you will make a STRONG IMPRESSION with employers and the rest is smooth sailing.