With the start of classes comes the start of on-campus recruiting on many campuses, including career fairs. Career fairs are usually not high on the list of students’ favorite activities and many career “experts” say career fairs are quickly losing their value. However, if your campus has a robust on-campus recruiting program, chances are the career fair is an important part of that process.
Anyone who is seriously seeking an internship or full-time job should spend a good amount of time preparing before heading to a fair. Here are three absolute musts for career fair prep.
Create a plan
Most career services office can provide a list of employers that plan to attend the fair. Get this list and start reviewing it to figure out which organizations you would like to target. Put your choices on your own list and prioritize your list according to importance.
For those companies you plan to visit, be sure you research them ahead of time. You should know before you go to the fair the very basics of each company: their products or services, location(s), types of positions available, etc.
In addition, research further the most important employers on your list. Read up on on current events related to the organization and ask around to see if anyone you know has interned or works there.
Ideally, when you go to the fair and approach the employers you’ve identified, you’ll be able to ask specific questions about positions for which you think you would be a great fit and can demonstrate some knowledge of the organization. This is much more impressive than approaching an employer and blurting out, “what kind of jobs do you have for me?” It’s not about you, it’s about what you can do for the employer.
The night before the career fair is not a good time to be frantically searching for appropriate dress. Ideally you should have business professional dress, which means a suit in a neutral color and conservative cut. Suits often have to be altered to fit and dry cleaned. These things need to be done ahead of time, so plan accordingly.
If you don’t have the appropriate attire and/or a new suit isn’t in your budget right now, see if you can borrow from a friend or search at secondhand stores. You don’t need something flashy or expensive, just something that fits you well.
If you don’t have a suit or are planning to work in a more creative, less formal field, you can opt for something a little less formal but research ahead of time and ask your career advisor what would be most appropriate.
Additionally, you should make sure your resume is updated and error-free and bring several copies with you. To stand out even further, consider creating business cards to leave with an employer. Some companies won’t accept resumes at a career fair because of applicant tracking procedures or other company policies, but business cards are usually accepted.
Set reasonable expectations
No one gets a job at a career fair. A fair is a networking opportunity. It’s a chance to get face time with potential employers.
Some employers are really good at remembering who they met that made a really positive first impression and will keep them top of mind for future interviews. Others aren’t as structured in their hiring process and/or view the fair as a chance to brand their company on campus.
Consider a career fair as a chance to learn about potential employers, meet professionals who can become part of your network and a means to practice your networking skills.
Any other career fair prep tips not mentioned here? Please share!
Kelly is a career advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she assists undergraduate business students with all aspects of their career development. Connect with Kelly on Twitter, her blog, LinkedIn or BrazenCareerist.