Jennifer Kumar, our Career Coach for the College of Social & Behavioral Science, offers advice for our upcoming career fairs, including valuable advice from our employer partners.
Entering the large, open area of a career fair with a multitude of employers can be either an exciting or an intimidating prospect. Where to start? What to say? What if I only have 20 minutes?
Let’s get you ready and confident with perspectives from previous employers at our University’s career fairs. We’ll cover how to prepare before the fair, what to do during the fair, and what to do after it’s over.
Essential Tasks to Complete Before the Fair
1-3 weeks before the fair:
Resume and LinkedIn drafting starts weeks, if not months, before a career fair. The earlier you start, the better. Crunched on time and not sure where to start? Buffer a minimum of 1-2 weeks before the event to get your resume written and reviewed by someone at U Career Success. This will allow ample time for gathering your hard copies in the days before the event.
1 week before the fair:
Visit the Handshake event page for the Career Fair to research employers who will be there. Identify 2-5 you may want to talk to. As a Motorola representative noted, “Coming with a focus of the types of jobs you are looking for is important. When students tell us they are open to anything, that doesn’t leave a memorable impression, and will not allow us to understand where they would fit in our company.” To leave a memorable impression, go to employers’ websites and study what they do, the industry they are in, their mission and values, any recent news, and, lastly, any possible job openings. During the research, note down a few points about the company that resonate with your values and/or skills so you will have talking points when visiting their booth.
1 week to a few days before the fair:
Practice your talking points for each company. Your introduction should be short and to the point – mentioning your name, major, a few highlights of your background and how they match the company’s values and or desired skillsets. Introductions should not be more than 3 or 4 minutes. Plan to spend no more than 10 minutes with any one employer.
Recruiters understand it is not realistic that every student will research every company to prepare talking points. As Erik and Duncan from the Thatcher Company shared, “We understand it’s not possible for students to learn about all the companies at a career fair. In this case, the best question to open the conversation with could be, “Hello, I’m (name), studying (note major area), how does this align with your company and what you may be looking for?” This type of opening will exude confidence and allow you to approach any company to start a meaningful conversation.
Day of the Fair
Lay of the Land:
Find the map of the event to locate the employers you have prepared to meet. Walking into these areas can be overwhelming as there can be as few as 20 or 30 employers or over 100, depending on the event. Take a moment to look over the venue map to orient yourself to know the route to take to optimize your time.
Collect contact Information:
Before leaving any employer’s table, do not forget to drop off your resume and collect their business card or contact information. It is at this point that some recruiters may offer to connect on LinkedIn as well. Do not forget to thank each person you interact with for their time and information. If, during the conversation, the recruiter noted anything special or unique, do not forget to note it down, as it may be a good opportunity to refer back to this in your follow-up email.
Zack, a recruiter at one of our recent career fairs noted, “If you have had time to research the company before the career fair, highlight skills or experience in your resume that align with that company’s needs. When at the fair, hand this specific resume to the employer pointing out the highlighted skills and what type of positions it may align with that you saw on the website. This will help us when we go back to our offices with hundreds of resumes get back to you faster.”
An employee at Ames Construction advised, “While asking us at the table, ‘What is your role in the company?’ is a fine question, asking, ‘What does your company do?’ is not the best question. We prefer you to research the company to understand our industry and some basic roles in the company, asking targeted questions from here will leave the best impression.”
A final point of general advice from an anonymous employer: “The best way to prepare for a career fair is to get used to talking to a wide range of people and talking with strangers. This will help you build confidence in life and your career.”
After the Fair
The same or the next day:
Organize all notes and information you collected, then plan out your follow-up strategy that you will employ within the next 3 to 7 business days.
After speaking to various employers, there is no consensus on a follow-up timeframe that makes sense for everyone. Keep in mind that the employers may be traveling from one career fair to another for a few days or a week at a time, so while some prefer a follow-up within 3-4 business days, some suggested waiting a week to 10 days to give them time to travel back to home base and get back in the swing of things. In your follow up email, it is always important to remind the recruiter of the context in which they met you, including the date, time, place, etc. And, if you learned anything interesting in your conversation, you can note it in this follow-up email.
Keeping these essential elements in mind will help you prepare for any career fair with confidence and ease. We are always here at U Career Success to meet you for personalized one-on-one appointments to help you with targeted interventions to elevate your career journey.