The engineering career fair starts tomorrow at my school. It’s a huge deal and it’s all everyone can talk about for those two days! I don’t have time to go this year, but when I went as a freshman I remember I was so nervous and had no clue what to expect. I had been at college for almost two months, wasn’t officially in a major, and never had to do anything that was so business formal. I didn’t even own a blazer!
Fast forward to present day and I like to think I’ve got a handle on this whole professional thing. I’ve been to a ton of informational seminars and met a lot of successful people, so I definitely feel like I can hold my own in a professional setting. Today I’m sharing my advice for succeeding at career fairs!
1. Plan your outfit.
This can often be overlooked, but what you wear is such an important part in how your day at the career fair is going to go. You want to feel confident, like you can take over the world!
Make sure your pants/skirt are pressed, or at the very least not frumpy and wrinkled- I get that ironing in college is practically nonexistent. If you haven’t worn those pants since your interview for that one job in high school and they’ve been shoved to the back of your closet ever since, throw them in the dryer with a wet towel for a few minutes and they should be good to go!
Also, watch your cleavage and don’t wear anything skin-tight. That’s obviously not professional and no one is going to take you seriously. Yes, it is kind of about how you look because these recruiters don’t have a lot of time to get to know you. Don’t go all free-spirit on me just yet- most everything is based on first impressions, so you really want to start off strong before you even open your mouth.
Personal note- don’t wear heels unless you’re used to wearing them. I got new wedge boots to wear to my first career fair and my feet were about to fall off by the time I got back to my dorm hours later. Flats are the way to go, trust me.
2. Get the details.
Find out all of the logistical details about the fair including how long it lasts, where it’s being held, if campus transportation is available (and where/when you can catch it), what you can and can’t bring (bookbags usually aren’t allowed because those rooms are packed), and what companies are will be there. This is kind of self-explanatory. You need to know where you’re going and make sure you don’t have the date wrong because that would be really sad.
3. Make a schedule.
Keep yourself on track. Start with what time you’re going to leave your room (account for delays due to traffic) and end with the time you need to be back on campus (or when you want to have all follow ups finished by).
After I checked in and got my name-tag, I took a few minutes to look over the program/guidebook and go over my plan. This allowed me time to de-stress from the bus ride and frenzy of check in and to focus on the next few hours. Prioritize your companies based on how popular they are, since those companies will likely have the longest lines (looking at you Apple and Google).
A pro-tip I got last year from one of my sorority sisters was to put your top company second or third in your schedule. By going to one of your less-desirable ones first, you get out your nervousness and can start to get in the groove of things before you go to your most important interaction!
4 . Research the companies.
You should never, ever ask a recruiter what their company does. You’re wasting their time and you certainly won’t get hired that way. Research the companies you’re interested in ahead of time and take notes from their mission statement and current projects. This way, you can blow them away with your knowledge and can tailor your pitch to match what they seem to value.
It’s also beneficial to have a list of unique questions to pull from to show your interest in the company/position. Some good ones are:
- How long have you been with XX and what makes you stay?
- How can a person in XX position help meet your short and long term goals?
- What are some of XX’s initiatives regarding learning and development?
- What would make someone successful in XX role?
- What will the timeline look like for applicants?
I like to keep my questions and notes on the inside of my portfolio for quick access. This makes it easy to review while you’re standing in line to talk with a company.
5. Have multiple copies of your resume.
You should have one for each company you plan to visit as well as extras in case anyone else catches your eye. Make sure they’re clean, crisp copies and keep them easily accessible! It’s not a good look to be shuffling through a disorganized portfolio when a recruiter’s waiting on you.
*Have your LinkedIn URL in the header of your resume with your name and contact information. If you run out of time with the recruiter, you can always direct them to your profile (so make sure it’s up to date). Yes, you need a LinkedIn. No, there’s no good way around it.
1. Go as early as possible.
I was talking with an engineer from Stantec the other day and she mentioned that she really appreciates the people that show up before noon. Not only are the lines shorter, giving you more face-time with companies, but you get to talk to the recruiters while they still have their energy! By the end of the day, they’re tired and have talked to so many kids already that it may be harder to stand out.
2. Show up with a smile, firm handshake, and positive attitude.
When I was shopping for a car, I was shocked at how weak some car salesman’s handshakes were! Like, this is your job, you’re supposed to be good at this. A weak, noodle handshake just screams unprofessional and unenthusiastic. Show the recruiter that you’re serious about the job and convey your confidence with a firm handshake. Don’t break their hand, of course, but find that perfect balance and you’re golden.
Also, smile! Make sure the recruiters think that you’re happy to be there, even if your feet are killing you and you’re all social-ed out for the day. It’s proven that smiling actually makes you happy anyway, so it’s a win-win!
And don’t forget to stay positive. Career fairs can be stressful and you may feel like you’ve been rejected sometimes, but don’t let it get you down. Continue to represent yourself well, you’ll eventually find your perfect fit!
3. Take a break if you need it.
Career fairs take a lot out of you. If you feel yourself tiring and not giving it your all anymore, stop for a few minutes to refresh your mindset and focus on the next set of companies. Have a snack, get some water, do what you need to do. These few minutes spent re-energizing could make or break your next interaction!
4. Network, network, network
Network with other students, network with volunteers, network with any companies that may not entirely fit what you’re looking for but who don’t have anyone talking to them. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and you never know who someone else could know (Yes, that’s a lot of knows. I believe I made my point 😉 ). Get the recruiter’s card and write any notes on the back of it. Not only does this get you their contact information, but it helps keep you organized and shows your dedication to the hiring process and the company.
1. Follow up.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” -Aristotle
Remember those cards you got? Use them! Send a thank you email/note that night or the next day, making sure to include something defining or memorable about the conversation you had so that they remember who you are. Not many people do this, so it will definitely help you stand out!
2. Relax and reflect.
What a long day! Take what you learned and implement changes accordingly. Did anyone make any comments on your resume? Did they ask about a LinkedIn and you don’t have one (which shouldn’t happen, since I told you to make one earlier 😉 )? Did you realize your elevator speech was too wordy? Work on it!
Gather together any extra resumes, file your notes/upload them to your computer, make a to-do list, sort through the business cards, basically clean out your portfolio and get it ready for the next time.
Now, go own that career fair! Be sure to let me know how it goes!
~What are your best tips for succeeding at a career fair?
This is the first installment in the professional development series.