Navigate Your College Career Fair!

September 29, 2017

Okay, so you’ve targeted companies and worked on your resume game – the next step for you is to take that information and tackle your college career fair!

The first time I went to my college career fair I was absolutely terrified. I heard all of these horror stories from upperclassmen and it made me almost chicken out completely. After all, the idea of having literally two minutes to talk to the company of your dreams is stressful, especially if you don’t know how to navigate the scene.

I just took on my third career fair Wednesday, and while I was stressed the night before, it was nothing near the terror that I felt last year. That’s because this year I employed a couple of tactics that I didn’t know anything about during my first time, and I am here to share them with you lovely humans.

Preparation is key.

If you haven’t read my post on how to prepare for your career fair, go do that now – old Kat had a lot of great information to share about career fairs, and it’s a pretty decent guide on how to prep for a job fair if I do say so myself.

However, there were some holes in my last post, and I’m not afraid to admit it! The biggest mistake at my first career fair was not having job-specific questions for the representatives. I developed a list of cover-all questions, and I found out that I shouldn’t have put all of my eggs into one basket. Beyond your standard questions, look up job postings you’re interested in and develop questions from those qualifications.

Recruiters don’t spend that much time talking to their prospective employees, but targeted questions are the best way to make sure you get the most out of the career fair as well.

Make a game plan and prioritize.

Picture this: a giant room (probably your school’s gym or stadium) filled with tables and people. Overwhelming? Yes. Impossible? Definitely not.

Make a list of all of the companies you want to visit, and organize them based on how interested you are in them. Another tip is to throw some employers in there that you aren’t sure about! If you feel like you are going to be nervous at the beginning of the fair tackle them first. That way, if it goes well, then you have created an opportunity for yourself that you initially wouldn’t have imagined. On the other hand, if it goes poorly, there’s less to feel bad about.

Map it out guys – you’ll thank me later!

Most of the time, there will be also be a map posted somewhere online with the company locations. Print it out and highlight all of the tables you want to go to – take your priorities list, and map out your route! This might seem like overkill, but I promise it will save you time and stress in the long run.

Wear comfy shoes!

There are going to be lots of people at your college career fair, and when there are lots of people, there are also lots of lines. Where there are lots of lines, there also comes a lot of waiting. While standing.

I picked out a cute pair of black pumps to wear at my career fair this year, and let me tell you – big. mistake. By the time I made my way over to the second table, my feet were already dead. I had to take my shoes off after I left to walk back to my dorm!

An example of what not to wear – this picture was taken right before I took my shoes off to walk across campus. #embarrassing.

Don’t make the same mistake as me. Wear a pair of comfortable heels, or pack a pair of flats in your bag. Your feet will thank you.

Take names. (Or just business cards)

You probably already know this by now, but the most important part of networking is the follow up. It’s one thing to impress someone at a career fair, but it is another to be remembered. From my experience, the best way to ensure that is to follow up with an email or a phone call.

However, how can you possibly follow up without having their information?

After your conversation, make it a point to ask for their contact information and use it! Whether it is through LinkedIn, an email address, or a phone number, secure a way to reach them again. Then, shoot them a quick message the next day to thank them for their time.

I used to be nervous about seeming clingy or desperate, but I promise the recruiter will appreciate your efforts. This year, I secured contact info, sent a thank-you, and got one back saying I did a great job. Lesson learned: the articles are right. Follow up, and it will pay off!

Finally, remember that a college career fair goes both ways.

It’s important to remember that college career fairs are a two-way street – contrary to popular belief, it’s not all about impressing the employers. The employers are also trying to impress you!

You are also there to shop around and find a company that’s best aligned to your personal goals and your ethics. If you walk up to a table and you don’t like how your conversation went, you are not obligated to apply for that job. Additionally, you’re allowed to ask the recruiters tough questions – if getting into a rotational program is important to you, make that known! If you really care about sustainability efforts by your employer-to-be, it’s okay to ask that too.

After all, it is your career, not theirs, right?

Final Thoughts

This post was a long time coming, but I hope that I was able to give some useful tips to all of you going to your career fairs sometime soon. College career fairs can be scary, but they are also amazing opportunities, so make the most of it!

What was your first career fair experience like? Do you have any tips?

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