Changing leaves. Profiles. Business suits. When I was a college student, the approach of fall always signified two things: fashion week and career fairs. Both events culminate into a speed dating frenzy of individuals competing for the attention of top industries to buy into their talent. So how do you stand out in the cattle call of career hopefuls without fading to black? Here are five tips to help you be best in class at career fairs this fall.
1. Know your purpose
Before attending any event, you should always figure out what you want to get from the event. Are you going to scope out the competition? Do you want to learn about companies you hope to work for? Is networking your plan of attack? Career fairs can be a bit overwhelming, so if you have an end goal in mind, it will make the navigation process a lot less intimidating.
Knowing your purpose will show companies your preparedness and maturity. As someone who has represented companies at hundreds of career fairs, I can tell you there’s nothing more frustrating than someone who comes to your booth and has no idea why they want to talk with you. So don’t be THAT person. Having a game plan will score you major points and move you to the head of the job search class.
2. Apply to jobs before the fair
There’s nothing more disappointing than crafting the perfect resume, printing it on the perfect shade of parchment paper, then standing in line to present it just to hear… “You’ll need to apply for positions with us directly online.” So save a tree and the disappointment by applying for the jobs you’re interested in online BEFORE the career fair. This will impress the company reps by letting them know you did your homework in advance and saved your face time with them for specific questions.
3. Have a great story to tell
Since lines are par for the course at career fairs, you want to make sure you utilize your time wisely once your turn has come. You won’t have a second chance to make a first impression, so make your encounter memorable. Think of a great, short story (remember, time is of the essence) that will grab the representative’s attention and make you stand out as someone the company would want to consider.
The story can be about you, something you read or encountered with the company, or something relevant and thought-provoking in the industry. They key is to make sure the story is tactful, professional, and will leave the person wanting to find out more about you once the fair is over.
4. Think outside the résumé
Employers are looking for candidates who can think outside the box without overstepping boundaries. Venture beyond the job search status quo and use a different tactic to self-promote your attributes. Create a one page bio or business card that highlights your strengths and what you bring to potential roles.
There are great sites like ResuMiniMe that create bios and mini résumés on business cards to hand out. It’s much easier to tote around and reference than a résumé, and will leave a more professional impression. If you’re strapped for cash, ResuMiniMe has a great feature that allows you to send requests to relatives and friends to gift the cards to you.
5. Don’t be an attention sponge
Be mindful of the fact that there are other people in career fair lines waiting to talk with the same companies you are. This isn’t the time to reminisce about everything you’ve accomplished since your third grade spelling bee. Keep the conversation, short, succinct, and meaningful.
Make it your goal to ask specific questions, get to the point and get the representative’s contact information. You want to be remembered for the right reasons. And taking up too much of the representative’s time could send your efforts to the recycling bin.
How do you navigate career fairs? What tips have you learned from experience? Leave a comment and let us know!
Yolanda is the award-winning author of “How to Score a Date with Your Potential Employer” and CEO of Straight No Chaser, LLC, which offers college speaking services and career coaching for students and recent grads entering the workforce. Yolanda has been a College Recruiting Specialist for over 15 years managing internship and entry-level talent recruiting programs at Fortune 500 companies such as Bausch & Lomb, Ernst & Young, The Washington Post, Freddie Mac and AOL. As a speaker and career coach, she uses her candid sense of humor and unconventional style to bring young professionals a fresh, relatable view into the corporate world by paralleling job seeking to the dating process. Yolanda also uses her recruiting knowledge to give GenY an insider’s look at what companies seek in young, potential candidates. Yolanda has been quoted as a top recruiting expert and contributing writer for various publications including USA Today, The Huffington Post, AOL Jobs, The Ladders and CBS News. Yolanda is originally from western New York where she attended St. Bonaventure University. She currently resides in the Washington DC area with her husband and constantly-expanding wardrobe. Yolanda welcomes connections on Twitter, through her website or on her Facebook Fanpage