Campus career fairs are the perfect way to explore careers, practice self-marketing, and network with potential employers. At some schools, there are over 100 employers across industries who want to recruit students for internships and entry-level jobs. Some schools host several career fairs throughout the school year, often targeted to specific industries, for example, finance, non-profit, education, engineering and technical. The booths are stacked with company, industry and salary information. The recruiters know all about jobs and industries and are usually willing to discuss their career paths, too.
Here are three tips to make the most of career fairs:
1.) Ask good questions
Recruiters enjoy talking with students who are articulate and demonstrate a genuine interest in their company. The questions you ask show the recruiter your level of interest. Stay away from asking questions about salary, benefits and other perks. There will be plenty of time for those questions later. Instead ask questions that will help you figure out the organizational culture and real opportunities. Here are a few examples, “Will you describe what the typical entry-level position is like?” “How are employees recognized for good work?” “How long do people usually stay at the company?” “What do employees like about working here?”
2.) Be prepared to discuss your career interests, experience and accomplishments
At a career fair, you’ll be talking with recruiters who are interested in learning about you. They are more inclined to want to help you as a student and will work with you to find a position that fits. However, you need to be as clear as possible about what you’re looking for in a job. You don’t have to know the specific job title, but you do need at least a general idea. For example, you may have had a good experience planning events for your student group. You can use that in your conversations with recruiters when they ask about your career interests.
It might sound like this:
“I’m part of a student group on campus and recently planned a meeting. What I enjoyed was managing all the details, marketing the events to my classmates and moderating the panel. I got to use my planning and communication skills and creativity. I’m looking for jobs that would let my use those skills.”
That approach is much more effective than shrugging your shoulders and muttering, “I don’t really know.”
3.) Get the recruiter’s contact information and follow up
Don’t let your explorations stop at the career fair. Make an effort to establish a connection with the recruiters you meet at career fairs. If you start attending career fairs early in your college career, you’ll have quite a network when graduation approaches. When following up with recruiters, send a brief thank you note (it can be an e-mail) thanking them for their time and for sharing company, industry and career information with you. From there, you can send periodic updates to let them know of your progress. If the recruiter gave you advice, it would be nice for you to update them on how it worked for you.
Markell Steele is s career counselor who helps frustrated job seekers find career direction. She works with clients in her private practice, Futures in Motion, Inc. and on-campus as Counseling Manager, Graduate Student Services at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In her role as career counselor, Markell guides her clients in discovering career options that integrate their interests, skills, and passions. She is also the author of Fast Track Your Career.