It’s fair to say you will feel pressure about your post-grad options during your last few semesters of college.
In the age of Linkedin recruiters, digital networking and, seemingly, hundreds of different online job sites, it can be tempting to conduct your first job search from the comfort of your couch. But doing so would mean missing out on one of the few opportunities you’ll have to meet recruiters face-to-face — your college’s career fair.
We spoke with a group of career coaches and experts to create a quick guide on navigating your first (and maybe only) chance before graduation to show real, live humans what you’re made of.
Have a plan
Before the fair, you can peruse your school’s career services website to find out which companies will have representatives in attendance.
“Look through the companies attending the career fair and see which ones you are really excited to see and which ones are of interest,” says Brooke Nelson, a career adviser at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
While you should always allow for some degree of spontaneity at a career fair (you never know the kinds of contacts you might meet by accident!), it’s best to have a few companies you can research before the event and approach with confidence.
Next, consider your own specific goals. Tanja Hinterstoisser, who runs the career design and employer outreach programs at Chamberlain College, says getting a job doesn’t necessarily have to be the only acceptable outcome. Career fairs are also great opportunities to build relationships with employers and recruiters that can benefit you down the line.
Bring a resume —and questions
Come to the fair with a few printed copies of your resume to hand out to prospective employers. You should also come prepared with some questions to avoid awkwardness. One good trick to prevent your nerves from getting the best of you is to get the recruiter talking first.
“Ask questions that are about them,” says Hinterstoisser, suggesting prompts like, “Tell me a little about your company. Tell me a little about how your company is different from the competitors.”
Hinterstoisser says to get specific about what you want to know. You can go as broad as asking about current and future opportunities or as narrow as team size.
Matthew Nicklaus, a recruiter with Rosendin Electric, a construction company that recruits at career fairs, says the more specific, the better.
“If a student is interested in an internship opportunity, ask about the length of the internship, ability to return, areas of opportunity and overall goals of the internship,” he says.
“If a student is looking for a career after graduation, we would recommend they ask about the company’s culture, benefits, stability of the company [and] growth opportunities.”
Marge Ang, a career management coach at UCLA Anderson Professional MBA Career Management Center, says your questions should demonstrate you’ve done your research. She suggests referencing a recent (and relevant) social post, press release or initiative to show you’ve done your homework.
Prepare an introduction
Asking concise, well-researched questions is a crucial aspect to having productive interactions with recruiters. But you should also view this as a chance for companies to get to know you better. This is where having a prepared introduction comes in handy.
“Good introductions should be clear and considered,” Nelson notes, “It should be easy to understand. Though it should be practiced, you do want to make it more conversational.”
She says you should give your major and explain your interests, overall goals and why you’re compatible with that company. To structure your introduction, she suggests setting it up in four parts.
- Who you are: Briefly introduce yourself by name, explain your major and when you will graduate.
- Past experiences: Talk about what you’ve done in the past that’s significant to you in the present moment.
- Future goals: Describe your career goals, where you see yourself headed and how your major will get you there.
- Stay connected: After you’ve addressed the above points, you should ask for a contact email for a follow-up.
Remember — presentation matters
Though you may be with your friends and this isn’t necessarily an academic or work activity, you should still abide by a high level of professionalism. In other words, “Don’t be sloppy,” Hinterstoisser says.
Conduct yourself appropriately, even if you’re there with friends. Research how people in your desired field dress for work and try to match it to the best of your ability. If you just finished up at the gym, you should change into something more appropriate than your joggers to convey your care.
Nelson also says to go easy on the swag. If you have a meaningful conversation with a company representative, sure, take the T-shirt. But running around filling your bag is not a good look.
Stay in touch
Plan to follow up with any contacts you’ve made at the fair within 48 hours via email or LinkedIn — try to remember to ask which method they prefer, says Nelson.
“Basically, stay on their radar,” she says.
In these follow-up messages, you should be specific and avoid sounding too rote or too boilerplate.
“Show your admiration for the company and what about it interests you,” Ang says. Referencing anything you touched upon in your first conversation will show your contact you were paying attention.
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