Job hunting season is upon us! Whether you are looking for a full time job, an internship, or to develop a network of recruiters, career fairs are a great way to get in touch with employers and shop around for your perfect job. To me, though, navigating a career fair can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack: it’s overwhelming to have to visit hundreds of tables and talk to representatives in search of the opportunity of your dreams.
Going to my first career fair was super intimidating, but after a lot of research I was able to walk into the fair with (relative) confidence and excitement. Through the career fair, I was lucky enough to land an internship with the company of my dreams for this upcoming summer! Here are a few tips and tricks I picked up in my research and from my own experience, and hopefully they will help you make this your best career fair yet.
How to Prepare
1. Prepare your elevator speech!
Basically, an elevator speech/pitch is a 30-second introduction about yourself that you will use to launch a conversation with a representative, potential employer, interviewer, etc. The premise is that if you were put in an elevator with the CEO of your dream company, you should be able to convince him/her to hire you before the elevator stops. It’s a fun concept, but also super nerve-wracking. This article in Forbes does a great job of elaborating on your elevator pitch.
You want to include just the basics about yourself, as well as why you want to work for the company. You can tailor your elevator pitch to the company’s desires (i.e. if a company likes organized people, work in your organizational skills as a key trait), and change things up every once in a while so you don’t get bored. Here’s an example elevator speech:
“Hi, my name is (so-and-so). I’m a (graduating year) and I’m passionate about (something you’re passionate about!), a key reason why I am pursuing a major in (your major) . I hope to one day work in (insert career goals) so that I might be able to apply my (include three key traits). I am interested in your company because of (three reasons). Would you be able to provide more information on the opportunities that are available for a full-time/internship position?”
Contrary to popular belief, I would highly suggest not committing your speech to memory word for word. Write a little sticky note out with all of the key points, and practice your speech in the mirror a few times the night before. You don’t want to sound robotic/rehearsed, so (ironically) practice sounding relaxed and confident. This is your biggest selling point!
2. Prepare your “cheat sheet”
I call this a cheat sheet because it has all of the information you could ever need in a career fair setting – it’s my favorite way to prepare, and keeping it with me helps calm my nerves. Here are a few things you should include in your own “cheat sheet”:
A list of the employers you want to visit & research on each company
First things first, you should definitely take the time to visit your school’s career fair webpage, which will feature a list of the employers that are attending the career fair. Jot down a list of every employer that you plan on visiting, their table number (if that information is available), and visit the company’s website.
Write down a couple of things about the company that you really like, such as why you want to work for them, why their values align with your career goals, research/work that you are really interested in with the company. You can keep this page of notes with you at all times during the career fair, and refer to it as you’re waiting in line to talk to a representative.
Questions you’d like to ask your recruiter
I know there’s that saying that “there’s no such thing as a bad question”, but in this case, there just might be. Asking things like “how much do you pay your interns?” or “where are you located?” are silly and show that you didn’t prepare. A few questions you could ask are:
What qualities are you looking for in an employee?
Do you offer full-time opportunities to your interns?
What is the company culture like?
Key points from your elevator pitch
Remember the sticky note I told you to write? Stick it to your cheat sheet!
3. Bring a folder, pen, and LOTS of resumes!
Make sure to pack your folder with your “cheat sheet”, a pen, and at least 10 (updated!) resumes. Amelia at A Wanderer’s Adventures has a great article on writing a killer resume, and I highly suggest you go check it out! You will likely be giving out your resume to all of the employers you come across, so it’s important to ensure that you don’t run out.
A folder is essential because you will also be getting business cards from different employers, which are important for contacting the recruiter after the career fair to thank him/her for the time. A friend told me to always keep a pen with you at a networking/career event, so that you can jot down a quick overview of the conversation you had with the person. It makes it much easier to send thank you emails later on!
4. Pick out a comfortable professional outfit & makeup look
Because you are going to be walking around for an extended period of time, make sure that what you’re wearing is suited for the situation at hand. Don’t wear heels that you know will hurt your feet, and don’t wear a top that you know you’ll be fidgeting with all day. If you feel confident and comfortable, chances are that it will improve your performance!
The first experience at a career fair is more often than not an overload of sights, sounds, and information. There are so many tables and so many people! Here are a couple of do’s and don’ts that will help you navigate your career fair experience with the lowest possible amount of casualties:
DO expect a lot of lines!
There are going to be tons of your colleagues hoping to seize opportunities too! This is why wearing comfortable clothes is super important, and it’s also important to budget your time if there is a small window in which you can be at the career fair. Prioritize the companies you must visit, and then visit the ones that you aren’t as passionate about after you hit the main ones. Lines aren’t a total con, though, because it gives you time to calm your nerves and prepare for a conversation with the recruiter!
There’s this idea that you have to change who you are to fit the job you’re applying for, and that’s simply not true! Of course, if a company takes pride in their employees’ ability to manage time well, you can choose to highlight that, but if they require you to know a coding language or a program that you have no knowledge of, don’t say that you do. That’ll just cause you more problems in the long run.
DO be yourself!
Going off of the last tip, it’s totally okay to be yourself and be frank about your passions and dreams! Employers love to see enthusiasm, and if you show your interest in their company I have found that they become interested in you.
DON’T expect a lot of time with an employer.
There are thousands of people that are going to be there, plus you, and the company you’re dying to see wants to meet all of them! This is why elevator speeches are so essential – they are quick and to the point and help an employer get the gist of who you are without wasting anyone’s time. However, some recruiters will take time to get to know a recruit – when this happens, take advantage of it! Be sure to ask the questions you wrote down, or any that pop into mind. More than just being a place to find a job, a career fair is a great way to network with recruiters and other people with similar interests, so use your charm and make a new connection. You’ll never know what it might lead to!
Phew, that was a long one. I hope you got at least one or two good nuggets of advice for your next career fair! Remember that no matter what the outcome is, you can attribute your experience to a lesson, and use that to further your career even more.
So, go & be the glowing young professional that you are. You go, girl.
Have you ever been to a career fair before? Do you have any tips? Leave them in the comments below!