For the recent grad who has experienced tossing a cap and switching a tassel, a career fair may be the next best step in a journey to finding a job. Career fairs are full of eager recruiters, on the hunt for the ideal candidate. And, like a swarm of bees to honey, they’re full of hundreds of candidates vying for the recruiters’ attention.
A career fair is your chance to network with recruiters from dozens of companies, and ultimately to sell your skills to them so you can land an interview. So, you better take plenty of time to prepare – or risk losing out on some great opportunities.
Here are a few smart ways to prep before a career fair to ensure that you stand out with a positive, lasting impression:
Put Together a Resume
This may seem like a no-brainer, but a resume is like a ticket to a show. You need one in order to get in. Be sure to list all applicable experiences, like internships, grade point average, relevant coursework and extracurricular activities.
Do Some Research
Find out which companies are going to be at the job fair, and choose three to five to target. Get to know as much as possible about them by looking at their webpages, scanning over their mission and values statements, and by reading their recent press releases.
Look for companies that put a lot of focus on employee happiness and well-being, as these are the ones who know how to keep a long-term employee-to-employer relationship going.
Tailor Your Resume to the Chosen Target Companies
If, for example, a target company specializes in design, come up with a creative resume that shows your design capabilities. In addition to design, you can tailor your resume to highlight the specific skills and accomplishments that match their expectations. Recruiters don’t have long to look at your resume, so make sure it’s easy to read and makes it clear how you are a good fit.
Plan Your Route
You’ll have a list of all attendees, and maybe even a map, and now that you know which companies you want to target you’ll have a base plan. You’ll want to plan out which companies to visit in order of your interest, since lines can sometimes be long and unpredictable. Also try to plan a few of your “secondary” interests in case you end up with extra time at the end. Organize your materials in this order, if necessary.
Perfect Your Pitch
A good pitch is short, succinct and well-rehearsed. It covers the questions before they even get asked and is persuasive. It’s your chance to sell yourself to the employer. Why can’t the employer go one more month without you in their office? What do you have to offer? Try to answer these questions in a 30-second pitch that includes the following:
- An intro with your name, year in school, and major
- Your plans for the future
- What you’ve done to get there (your experience, involvement in related clubs, internships, etc.)
- How the company fits into your plan (why you want to work there, basically)
Once you have your pitch done, practice with a close friend, or consider asking a neighbor. You’ll want to be able to say it clearly and confidently by the time you’re at the career fair.
Come up With Questions
There shouldn’t be any awkward pauses in conversations with recruiters. Think of a few conversation starters to break the ice, but also be sure to prepare thoughtful, practical questions to ask once the conversation gets going. You should ask a few burning questions about the company that would be nice to know, such as “Are there specific career tracks within the organization?” and questions about the recruiter, like “What made you choose this company, and why do you stay?”
Try to show your knowledge of the company by incorporating bits of information into your questions. If you know there are opportunities for ongoing learning, but the website didn’t share details on them, ask for specifics. And, whatever you do, do not ask about something that could’ve been found easily with a Google search – or even worse, is on the recruiting materials.
And, always, ALWAYS be sure to find out about next steps and how to follow-up. If you forget this part, all your networking may be for nothing.
Press Your Outfit
You want to dress to impress, so make sure you have your outfit planned and pressed so there are no last-minute outfit disasters. Dressing like it’s an interview can do wonders for your and the employers’ confidence. Consider modest business attire that will show just how serious you are. For additional tips, read this article at Monster.com on dressing for career fairs.
Print Out Copies of Resumes and Writing Samples
Multiple copies of everything should be readily available for handing out to prospective employers. Make more than what you need so there’s enough to give to the target companies, as well as any others that may be eye-catching. There are often multiple recruiters per company, so keep that in mind, too. It’s better to be over-prepared than under.
Not only is it necessary to get all of the paperwork that you’ll be handing out – resumes, writing samples, etc. – compiled, organized and easily accessible, it’s important to know where all of the paperwork you’ll be receiving will go. This includes a place for business cards that will be key to follow-up calls and emails, as well as pens and paper for any impromptu job applications. It’s best to have a portfolio with a notebook and business card slot.
I always had a sheet with specific details I wanted to bring up to recruiters hidden behind the notebook in my portfolio. I would jog my memory before introducing myself, and then take a few quick notes afterwards. Having a few details about your conversation recorded is a great way to keep track of what next steps need to be taken, and personal information is great to bring up when you send them a thank-you after the event.
When it comes to career fairs, organization and preparation are key. Wandering the aisles of a career fair can be daunting, but with a little prep work, it’ll all pay off when a job offer is made.
About the author: Sarah Landrum recently graduated from Penn State with degrees in Marketing and PR. Now, she’s a freelance writer and career blogger sharing advice on navigating the work world and achieving happiness and success in your career. She’s also the newest addition to the Campus to Career family, serving as a featured contributor on a regular basis. You can find her tweeting during boring speeches @SarahLandrum