Daunting, crowded, borderline chaos–I’m talking about career fairs. Most universities will host several career fairs throughout the year, often tailored to a specific field of interest. Without a good strategy, a career fair could be a fruitless waste of time. But…if you work it right, it’s an easy opportunity to network and establish a relationship with somebody inside the company. The companies who register are already interested in you! To create a winning game plan strategy, here are some crucial questions you should ask yourself in preparation:
What will you give them? Some people will meander through a job fair looking for the “cool, free stuff”. Yes, many of the companies will have “cool, free stuff” (like pens, water bottles, or those reusable grocery bags…how cool, right???). My advice, is to not worry or care about the swag the companies are giving away. Think, instead, about what you are going to give them. Will you hand out a business card? Will you give them copies of your resume? Will you give them a reason to remember your name? As part of your preparation, you will want to dress appropriately to give the right impression (here are formal, semi-formal, and business casual ideas), be ready for some “booth chat” (we’ll talk about that next week), and have your resume ready to pass out (here and here are instructions on how to do that). The recruiters and company representatives see your resume and conversation as the “cool, free stuff” so make sure you’re ready to give it!
What is your objective? Maybe you’ve never been to a career fair and are just curious. Maybe you’re looking for a summer internship or part-time work. Maybe you’re about to graduate and (eek!) don’t have a job. Maybe you’ve got a job but it’s not a good fit and you’re looking to lateral somewhere. Career fairs can fulfill a number of objectives, but your objective will determine how much preparation you will need. If you’re on the “just curious” end of the spectrum, you won’t need to prepare as much, and should probably do more observation than engagement. The more serious you are about wanting to make connections, and get results, the more serious you should be about preparation and strategy. Plan ahead! Put not only the date of the job fair on your calendar, but plan time (a few weeks ahead!) to prepare for it! Preparation will build your confidence.
Who are your top five? This may seem like a no-brainer, but there may be over 100 companies with booths, let alone special information sessions, and there is simply no way to talk with each and every representative there. Most companies have to register in advance, and that list is usually available online. Find it, print it, and read over the names of the companies. From the names alone, are there 5 companies that interest you? Then you’re set. Those are the 5 you should research and prepare to talk with. But, like Gretchen McClain said, you want to take advantage of opportunities as they come. A career fair is an opportunity! ***If you want to be really prepared, I recommend using the list to research the companies you don’t recognize. You’d hate to find out later that your dream company was right there, in front of your nose, and you missed out on the opportunity. Even if you get an interview later, the recruiter will bring up the fact that they were at the job fair, and ask if you stopped by the booth. This always happens. And you’ll feel embarrassed if you have to admit you didn’t stop by their booth. Trust me, I’m speaking from personal experience. It takes 10 seconds to find the company website, read the “about us” section, and decide whether you’re interested enough to keep researching or to move on to the next company. Just do it.