Photo Credit: Seattle University

Photo Credit: Seattle University

You’re into your junior year, and so far, college has been a breeze.  Yeah, there are mid-terms, homework, late-night cramming sessions and tutors.  But it’s nothing you haven’t already tackled before.  Until one day, you get an email from your career center promoting the 2014 Winter Career Fair.  You start to panic.  You know you need an internship, but the whole prospect of meeting recruiters from 80+ companies sounds daunting.  What do I say?  How should I dress?  How many copies of my resume do I need?  Relax.  We’ve got you covered.  Here are 6 steps to crushing the career fair, standing out from your classmates and getting the job or internship you want!

1.       What do you want to get out of it?  Defining your objectives. The first step is actually to take a step back.  Ask yourself what you want to get out of the career fair.  If you already know which career path you’re pursuing, you’re in good shape.  You can use your time at the fair to assess different companies that offer the job you’re looking for.  But you’ll still want to determine how many companies you want to talk to – are you super selective and only want to talk to the most prestigious companies?  Or will you consider a job from a company you haven’t heard of before?  If you’re unsure which career is right for you, this is your wake up call to start figuring it out!  You don’t want to be the student who appears to be aimlessly wandering around the fair, with no idea what you want.  If you go up to an employer and talk to them, at least convince them that you are interested in a specific position they are hiring for.  Employers don’t want to hire students who seem like they don’t know what they want – it’s too risky!

2.       The Pre-Fair War Room: How to Prepare To be truly effective at a career fair, you want to treat it more as a “selling” opportunity, and do as much research as you can on the companies attending beforehand.  Well before the career fair, your career center will publish a list of the attending companies, what positions they are hiring for, and which majors they are interested in for those positions.  Before you attend the fair, you want to identify about 10 companies or more that you are truly interested in.  Then, you’ll want to start doing company and industry research through their website, annual report, Google News, industry trade sites, etc.  For example, prior to the career fair you should know their major product or service lines, recent acquisitions, major executive changes, and who their customers and competitors are.  Charles Purdy at Monster Careers wrote a helpful piece on how to do company research – check it out.  You do all of this preparation so that you can impress the recruiters at the career fair by asking them thoughtful questions that you can’t find the answers to online.  Next, prepare a list of 3-5 questions you can ask each recruiter – write them down, and bring the questions with you.  You probably won’t have time to ask every question you want, but it’s better to be over-prepared.

3.       The Pre-Sell Warm-Up: Your Resume, LinkedIn and Elevator Pitch Now that you’ve done your research, it’s important to make sure that the marketing materials for the brand of “you” are polished and ready for launch.  This means your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and your elevator pitch.  Your resume(s) should be tailored to the jobs you are going after, and if you’re pursuing two completely different positions – let’s say a job as a marketing coordinator, and a job as a sales analyst, then you may even want to have two resumes with you – one tailored for each position.  Bring at least 20 copies of your resume with you, and make sure it’s on professional resume paper.  Your LinkedIn profile needs to be complete and polished, because recruiters will look at it. And last but not least, you need to have a 15-30 second elevator pitch ready that promotes your personal brand and tells recruiters who you are, what’s unique about you, and what you’re looking for.  For tips on how to craft your elevator pitch, check out Sejal Patel’s article on Dan Schawbel’s Student Branding Blog.

4.       D-Day: Your Strategy for the Day of the Career Fair You’ve already identified the 10 companies you’re most interested in speaking with – now rank them from most interesting to least interesting, and plan on visiting each company in that order.  This way you are guaranteed to get face time with the companies that matter most to you.  If you can, try to get your hands on a layout of the career fair, so you can see where each company is stationed.  Next, plan on attending as early as possible – try to get to the fair right when it starts.  You’ll beat the rush of other students vying for the same companies as you, and you may even get to spend more time chatting with the recruiters if no one is waiting behind you to speak with them.   If class is getting in the way of attending early, you may even want to consider skipping class – the career fair is that important!

5.       Avoid Fashion Faux Pas – What to Wear This is a professional event, and first impressions really matter.  So leave the flip-flops and shorts at home.  Ditch the hat.  Comb your hair and brush your teeth.  Be clean shaven.  The name of the day is business formal – men should be wearing a dark suit and tie, and women should wear business formal attire as well.  Diane Gottsman wrote an excellent piece on interview attire for women for Huffington Post, and Undercover Recruiter has an excellent guide on interview attire for men.

6.      Be Nice! Job Fair Etiquette and Following Up Once you’re at the career fair, it’s important to conduct yourself in a professional manner.  You might see your friends and that person you’ve had your eye on there – but remember, this is not a frat party.  Keep the conversations and your demeanor professional, and if you see friends, be polite, but tell them you’ll socialize with them later.  When you approach recruiters, call them “Mr.” or “Ms.” and their last name, unless they ask you to call them by their first name.  They are older than you, and this shows respect.  Confidently introduce yourself and firmly shake their hand – remember, your elevator pitch should be rehearsed enough so that you can say it naturally, without making it sound like it’s a canned speech. While you’re talking to the recruiter, be considerate of their time, as well as the time of your fellow classmates at the fair.  Do not spend more than 5 minutes talking to the recruiter, unless the recruiter keeps asking you questions, or there’s nobody waiting behind you to speak with the recruiter.  When you’re wrapping up your conversation, be sure to thank the recruiter for their time, express your interest in the company and position, ask for their business card, and give them a copy of your resume.  The same day, send a thank you email to the recruiter summarizing what you learned and your interest in the position and company, and express your excitement about the next steps in the recruiting process.  For more information on how to follow up after networking events, John Muscarello wrote a great piece that’s worth reading.  Be sure to stay in touch with the recruiter through the company’s recruiting process. Do you have a career fair coming up?  If so, what are you doing to prepare for it so you can stand out?  If you have any questions about your career fair, we’d love to hear from you!