“So what are you planning on doing once you graduate?”
The words are suddenly all that you can hear in your noisy living room despite the large family gathering that is occurring all around you. It’s the question that you’ve been dreading ever since your parents told you they’d be throwing a Memorial Day cookout and that you needed to come home and visit. The room goes silent, all eyes are on you as your nosy family and friends eagerly wait for you to divulge your plans.
An honest “I’d rather not talk about it right now, the thought of the future is stressing me out,” would suffice to quiet any further inquiries, but is probably more than you’re willing to share at the moment. After all, you’re a Senior at University. It’s mid-fall-semester; midterms are in full swing for the 18 credits you’re probably taking so you can finish your double major, double minor, and certificate yet still graduate on time; you’re drowning in extracurricular responsibilities you didn’t think would take up so much of your time; and everything more immediate has taken precedence over planning for your future career.
You opt for a simple, “I’m keeping my options open at the moment,” and quickly change the conversation.
Ask any graduate how often they were asked about their future plans during their final year at University and they’ll tell you that it’s impossible to keep count. Every family gathering turns into a gauntlet of anxiety-inducing conversations about their future career on top of the usual queries of “So, do you have a boyfriend yet?” and embarrassing stories about their childhood. It’s enough to make any sane person want to avoid holidays altogether.
The reality of the matter is that job hunting is an incredibly difficult and time-consuming process when you aren’t also taking classes full-time, and, for most people, receiving an full-time offer from an employer doesn’t happen overnight. It can take weeks, even months, of applying to open job postings, emailing recruiters, going through round after round of interviews, and even then you’re not guaranteed to receive an offer. The process can be harrowing.
Luckily, your university most likely has plenty of resources to help make searching for your future career that much easier, and we’re going to focus on acing one of those today: your school’s Career Fair.
The Month Before the Fair
1. The most important thing is to start early!
Now, I know exactly what you’re thinking. “Start early? I have exams, and papers, and extracurriculars, and parties, and a part-time job, I don’t have time to start early!” Want to know how I know that’s what you’re thinking? Because this time last year that was exactly what I was thinking. Everything else in my life was more immediate than my job search and as a result, I was well behind my peers when it came to interviewing for positions. So for your sanity, please, start early.
2. Look up the companies who will be attending your school’s Career Fair.
Company registration for Career Fair usually closes weeks in advance of the actual event, meaning that you’ll know well in advance who will be there. This information can be found on your university’s career resource center website. Go through the list of companies and read the information that they’ve provided to your CRC and mark down all of the companies that sound interesting to you or that you’d like to learn more about! Try to get through as many as possible and remember, looks can be deceiving. That random acronym could stand for something really amazing, you just won’t know until you click it to find out!
Pay special attention to exactly what positions the companies are looking to fill at your career fair, not just the description about what the company does!
It’s all fine and dandy if you find this one Accounting Firm to be exactly what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking to work in their client services department and they’re looking to hire accountants, you’re not going to get very far with the recruiter the day-of. Take it from the girl who walked up to a super cool media intelligence company saying that she wanted to work in their client services department because she loved talking to clients but hated doing sales pitches, and the only position they were hiring for at the career fair were sales associate positions.
3. Once you’ve narrowed in on the companies you’re interested in, do extra research.
Look into their mission statement, their CEO, their size, their business practices, their recent news, anything that you can get your hands on. You may find that certain companies don’t seem all too interesting at this stage, and it’s fine to take them off your list if so! You want to narrow your list to a manageable number and this is the stage where you’ll do that. You’ll also find that certain companies will really jump out to you more than others. That’s great! These will be the companies you’ll prioritize the day-of. Make sure to take notes on the information that you find as you go, it’ll be important later.
If you can, try to find out their hiring practices.
This will go a long way to helping you as well. What entry-level positions do they have and what paths to advancement do those positions follow? Do they only hire from very specific majors or skill sets, and do you match that requirement? This information may be hard to find, but if you can find it, it will do a world of wonder to help your strategize.
Remember how I told the recruiter for that one company that I hated sales even though that was the only position they were hiring for at the career fair? As it turned out, not only was that the only position they were hiring for that day, but it was also the only position they ever hire for. All other positions in the company are filled internally from that one sales associate position. Yeah. Guess who didn’t get an interview with that company.
4. See if any of the companies that you’re interested in are holding information sessions before the career fair.
Often times companies will host information sessions in your University’s career resource center throughout the year to continuously generate interest, not just at the career fair itself. Make sure to keep track of what companies are coming when, and if one of the companies you’re interested in is coming before the career fair, make sure to attend the information session! Sometimes companies will do on-campus interviews immediately following information sessions, so this is a great way to get ahead of the plethora of people who the recruiters will be talking to come career fair day. Even if they aren’t doing interviews immediately afterwards, most companies have a specific set of recruiters assigned to any given campus, meaning that information sessions are a great way to introduce yourself to the people you’ll be talking to the day of career fair in a more intimate setting and (hopefully) have them recognize you when you walk up to their booth on the big day.
The Week Before the Fair
5. Break out your business professional!
Regardless of what you may know of the company’s culture or dress code, you want to dress to impress and look your absolute best and most hire-able, which means dressing in business professional attire AKA a full suit. You should pick a suit that is in a neutral color (gray, black, navy) with a matching jacket and bottom and neutral colored shoes. Regardless of your gender, you should be covered from chest to toe, which means appropriately tailored pants or a skirt-and-hose combo. Sound old-fashioned? Maybe, but recruiters take note of your attire, and they will remember if you were perfectly put together and they will be impressed. Plus chub rub is real and that’s the last thing you want to be dealing with when you’re trying to make it to 20 companies in one day.
Your shirt, tie, socks, and jewelry are where you can get creative and add pops of color that will differentiate you from the sea of neutrals around you, and I highly recommend that you go tastefully bold. This will be important later. So go ahead, pair that bomb hot pink blouse with your navy suit and chic statement necklace, or that killer orange bow tie with your pinstripe button down and a matching orange pocket square. Make them remember you (in a good way).
Check out my post Dress to Impress: Where You Can/Should Actually Buy Women’s Suits for tips on where to go shopping for the perfect business professional suit without breaking your bank!
If you don’t own a suit, I’d recommend buying one for this occasion, especially since you’ll need it later on for your formal interviews. If you can’t afford to purchase a suit, check to see if your school has a career closet where you can try on and borrow a suit that fits you, or if any organizations on campus provide this service instead! If this is the route you plan on going, check early. A lot of other people will have the same idea.
6. Update your resume if you haven’t already, save it as both a word document and a PDF (to retain formatting regardless of where you print it), and print off 3 copies for every company you plan on visiting.
Sound like a ridiculous amount of copies to make? Maybe, but better safe than sorry. You never know how many recruiters you’ll end up talking to for one company, especially if you’re planning on talking about multiple positions within the same company, so you’ll want to have plenty on-hand. And if one accidentally gets ripped or crumpled you’ll have plenty more!
7. Put the copies of your resume, the notes you’ve taken, and a pen inside a padfolio.
You’ll want to have all of your materials in one place for the big day, and a padfolio is the best way to store all of them and will be the most convenient when you’re walking around. If you don’t have one and can’t purchase one, a plain folder in a neutral color will work just as well!
The Night Before the Career Fair
8. Set everything out so you don’t have to scramble to find it the next day.
And I mean absolutely everything. Set out your suit, your hose, your socks, your tie, your jewelry, your heels, your dress shoes, your pocket square, your bag, your briefcase, everything you’re going to need for the following day. The last thing you want is to realize you forgot something when you’re already on the bus to the career fair, or to be running around frantically trying to find something. As for what to pack in your bag, here’s my recommendation (where applicable):
- A water bottle
- Granola bars
- Breath mints
- Makeup blotting wipes
- Portable phone charger
- Hand sanitizer
- Band aids
- Your padfolio with your copies of your resumes, notes, and a legal pad
The day is going to be long, the air conditioning will be shoddy because of the amount of bodies packed into one tiny space, you’ll be shaking a lot of hands, and you’ll be walking around a lot. Trust me, you’re going to need this stuff.
9. Practice your elevator pitch.
You know, the answer to the inevitable “Tell me a little about yourself!” question. You want to be able to tell them as much about you that is relevant to you being hireable in under a minute. Include your year, major(s), minor(s), certificate(s), expected graduation any leadership positions you hold on campus, any part- or full-time jobs you currently work, and the type of position you’re looking for as well as why you’re looking for it. And my own little tip: always end with something fun that the recruiter can hopefully relate to.
Here’s an example of an elevator pitch:
“Well, my name is Logan Abbott and I’m a fourth year International Studies and French and Francophone Studies double major with a minor in European Union Studies, and I’ll be graduating in May 2017. I’m in charge of a Model United Nations conference run by the University of Florida that brings around 800 high schoolers and 150 university-aged staffers to the campus to put on a fun and educational weekend, and I currently work as a resident assistant on campus. I’m currently looking for a position in client services because my experience as an RA and as the person in charge of such a large event has really shown me how much I enjoy working with clients and customers to ensure that they’re getting their perfect solution out of the services that we offer them. Also, I adore dogs and am really missing my three puppies I have at home!”
9. Jot down general and specific questions to ask each company!
These questions should be broad enough that the recruiter can give you a good overview, from which you can ask clarifying questions to further the conversation. Make sure to have at least one or two questions specific to each company that stems from the research that you’ve done. In total, try to have 3 general questions that you’ll ask all of the companies in addition to the company-specific questions. Seem like a lot? You’ll understand why soon.
The Day of the Career Fair
10. Get your butt out of bed and get there early.
Career fairs generally last all day in order to accommodate as many students’ course schedules as possible, which means there will be a constant cycle of students entering and leaving the career fair throughout the day. Get there as early as you possibly can to give you the most time to talk to the companies on your list, even if that means getting there at 8am. The earlier the time, the fewer students will be there, let’s be real, which means the lines (and yes, there will be lines) to talk to companies will be shorter, and you can get through faster or spend more time talking to recruiters at popular companies.
11. Grab a map of the locations of the booths and make your game plan.
Circle the booths you want to visit and figure out in which order you’re going to go. This most likely will not be in the order of most important to you to least important to you: you need to be strategic. You’re playing a game of connect the dots with as little doubling back as possible to maximize the time you spend talking to recruiters and minimize the time you spend walking around trying to find a booth. There will be times where you’ll have to skip talking to a company because there’s 10 people in line but the next company on your path is waiting for people to approach them, and that’s okay! Prioritize talking to as many companies as possible in the time that you can, and if you happen to skip a company you really love because the wait is too long, make sure to leave time for it at the end.
Talking to Companies
12. Review your notes before walking up to them!
This is where your prior research and questions come in handy! You want to have any research that you’ve done at the forefront of your mind when you talk to the recruiter so you can drop tidbits at any time to show them that you’ve done research. Not only does it impress the recruiter, it also shows that you’re serious about being interested in the company and can set you apart from people who are wandering around from booth to booth without a game plan.
13. Remember: Eye contact, warm smile, firm handshake.
These are the three most important things to a strong introduction. Don’t just jump into your elevator pitch though, never lead with that unless they ask for it! Try to strike up a friendly conversation with them first that is outside the realm of the career fair. Ask them how their day has been going, compliment them on something that they’re wearing, ask them a question about themselves! Recruiters are more likely to remember you by the rapport you create and the interesting conversation that you have than by a discussion of your resume alone.
***MAKE SURE YOU REMEMBER THEIR NAME, EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO CONTINUOUSLY GLANCE AT THEIR NAME BADGE WHILE THEY’RE TALKING TO YOU.
14. Be ready to lead the conversation if necessary.
Have your elevator pitch at the ready and your resume in hand to give to them as soon as they ask for it. The conversation about the company, what they’re looking for, and what you’re looking for can go one of two ways: either you’ll lead it or the recruiter will lead it, and you’ll have to figure out which one it’ll be on the spot.
Generally it’ll be pretty obvious if they’re expecting you to lead the conversation because there will be at least one awkward silence after you’ve finished building your rapport. This is where those questions you came up with last night come in handy! Break ’em out and ask follow-up questions where necessary, and if you can, try to relate something on your resume to something they say (and I say something on your resume because they’ll be reminded of it when they look at it later). For instance:
You: So what are the main responsibilities of XYZ job?
Recruiter: Well, one of the biggest responsibilities is time management, because planning these large events is no easy task and with the amount of moving parts that this position handles, it can be very easy to fall behind which could cause the whole event to get off schedule.
You: I totally understand, when I was Secretary-General of this Model United Nations conference I had to make sure that my secretariat and I were always on schedule. It was no easy task.
Recruiter: Really? Tell me more about that.
If the recruiter leads the conversation then you have smooth sailing ahead, all you have to do is answer their questions concisely and occasionally ask them questions as you go along, and save the questions you came up with the night before for the end when they inevitably ask “So, do you have any more questions for me?”
15. Don’t force the conversation to go on longer than is natural.
By the time the recruiter has asked “Do you have any more questions for me?” it’s a signal that you should be wrapping up your conversation. When all is said and done, ask them for their business card. If they have a personal business card they will gladly give it to you, and if they’ve run out, ask them to write their information on your legal pad so that you have it for future reference. Some companies, however, don’t allow their recruiters to give out their personal contact information (it sounds weird but it’s happened to me on multiple occasions) and will only allow them to give out a general email. That’s okay, too.
To formally end the conversation, make eye contact again, smile, shake their hand, and say something along the lines of “Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me about [what you talked about], [insert the recruiter’s name here], I really appreciate it. I hope you have a great rest of your day, and I look forward to hearing more about [company name] in the future!” And if you had a really great personal conversation, add something about that in at the end.
16. Don’t just walk directly to the next booth on your list; stop and take notes!
The biggest mistake you could make at this point would be to immediately move on to the next company you want to talk to. Don’t do that. Instead, walk away and find a place nearby (but out of sight of the booth you were just at) and jot down notes of the conversation you just had with the recruiter at the company you just spoke to. Don’t just include the information you learned about the company; while that’s good for your reference, it’s probably the exact same information that the recruiter is giving to everyone else. You want to make sure to write anything besides the company or job that you spoke about that would make the recruiter remember you, such as the fact that they were craving a Cinnamon Almond Milk Macchiato, or how painful it is to break in the new pair of shoes you just bought, etc. You’ll need this when you email them later.
Make sure to keep the business card they gave you with the notes you made on the conversation you had!
After the Career Fair is Over
17. Email every recruiter you spoke to.
Each email you send should contain the following information at the very least:
- A thank you for taking the time to speak to you about the company
- A reference to the personal conversation that you had with the recruiter
- A PDF copy of the resume you handed them (“for their convenience”)
- A note about how excited you are to pursue a position at the company because of the conversation you had with them
These emails serve to remind them of who you are, show your dedication to pursuing a position at the company, and ensure that even if they accidentally misplaced your resume they will still have it on file. It also opens up a line for future communication in case the recruiter wants to move you forward in the process or if you have any questions further on!
18. Follow any directions they gave you!
If they told you to go online and apply to a position so they can consider you, do it as soon as possible! If they asked you to come to an information session or mixer later that day or the next day, make time in your schedule to attend.
19. If you were invited to an on-campus interview the next day or later in the week:
Wear the exact same thing to the interview that you wore to the career showcase. I know that sounds weird, but hear me out.
Do you know how many students recruiters talk to in one day? Hundreds, and their physical appearances all blend together in the recruiter’s mind. The conversation that you two had surely stands out but the combination of your hair and eye color are a dime a dozen on your campus.
But you know what they probably do remember? How awesome that bomb hot pink shirt looked when paired with that chic statement necklace you wore, or how perfectly that killer orange bow-tie coordinated with the orange pocket square you put in the pocket on your left breast. And that visual cue will help them connect the amazing conversation you two had with the student (aka you) that just sat down in front of them.
“But Logan!” You retort, “What if I interview with someone other than the recruiter I spoke to at career fair?”
Well, then you still look amazing and that recruiter will have the same visual cues that your first recruiter had, which is never a bad thing.
- As you’re doing your initial research into companies on the career fair website, look to see if they have online applications posted on your school’s career resource center website itself. If they do, and you know you’ll be visiting them the day of the fair, fill out and submit that application before the career fair! Recruiters will often have iPads or computers with them for prospective interviewees to fill out their information so that the company can have it on file. What does this mean if you haven’t already filled out an application online? It means that you’ll be ushered to said computer or iPad and the recruiter to whom you were just speaking will move on to another student who is patiently waiting for their turn to ask questions. So don’t get sidelined, make sure to be proactive!
- Often times the recruiters will have free ~swag~ that you can take with you after visiting their booth. Feel free to take with you what you would like, but don’t take anything you can’t easily conceal on your person! You want the next recruiter you speak to notice your amazing personality and killer fashion sense, not the fact that you’re carrying around a water bottle from a different company.
- When talking about why you’re interested in the specific position, focus on the positives, not the negatives. Talk about how your strengths and current skill set apply to the position you’re interested in and expound upon what you like about that! Avoid saying that you like Position A because it doesn’t have specific aspects of Position B that you don’t like, such as “I love the idea of working in client services because you’re interacting with customers who want to talk to you so that you can ensure they’re getting the most out of their product, whereas I feel like sales is much more about convincing people to purchase a product even if it isn’t exactly what they need.”
- Ultimately, just be yourself. Recruiters can tell if you’re putting on an act because trust me, they’ve seen it before a million times over. They’d rather speak to a real person than whatever caricature of a professional you’ve decided to imitate, so remember what your first grade teacher always told you! Honesty is the best policy!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about how to do well at your campus’ career fair? Let me know in the comments below!