It’s career fair season! Meeting prospective employers and networking to get the job of your dreams is an imperative step in your college life. So how do you make sure you do it right?
With over a decade of HR experience, I have attended countless career fairs and interviewed thousands of potential candidates. Based on my experience, doing the following can help set yourself apart from the crowd.
Dress to Impress
So, your college hoodie, sweat pants, and running shoes work, right? Wrong.
Women should wear a top, skirt or dress pants and a blazer. Men should wear a suit and tie. Men and women both need to make sure their clothes are clean, pressed, and of a professional style and color. If you don’t have suitable attire or can’t afford to buy new clothes, ask a friend to borrow a nice outfit or shop the resale racks. Shoes should fit well and be comfortable to walk in. (Another tip for the guys: when wearing suits or dress slacks, be sure to wear dress socks and not white athletic socks!)
Do Your Homework
Know your audience! Research which potential employers will be there, make a list of your top priorities, and then learn about the companies. Where do they have operations? Have they been mentioned in the news lately? Find out if company executives and leaders are alumni of your college or university as this is a great conversation starter.
Connect on social media. Follow, like, share, and comment on company posts as well as individuals from that company who might be involved in recruiting or hiring.
Once you know what companies and potential opportunities are available, figure out what makes you stand out from the crowd. Recruiters and HR professionals see hundreds of students a day so make sure they know what makes you unique. How will your skills, knowledge, and experience match what employers are looking for? Prepare and practice your pitch!
Bring along copies of your resume printed on professional resume paper. Take more resumes with you than you expect you’ll need. If you need help getting your resume written professionally, talk to your career services department. They are a great resource for resume writing and editing.
Want to really impress? Bring business cards! Online companies like Vista-Print offer cards that are inexpensive and easy to design with a quick turn-around. Get extra points by bringing cards that coordinate with your resume (consistent branding).
If relevant, have samples from your portfolio to share. If you are searching for a job in marketing or communications, bring your writing samples and include a link to your e-portfolio on your resume.
It’s also a good idea to bring along a professional-looking and appropriate bag with you to the fair. This will allow you a place to store your own materials so you have a free hand to shake with and so you have somewhere to place all the brochures and business cards (and swag) you collect from companies throughout the day.
Once You are There
Network, network, network.
When you arrive, take a few minutes to review the map and directory for the fair. Quickly locate and walk by the employers in whom you’re most interested.
A little nervous? Visit with a few companies that aren’t your priority employers to shake off the nerves and get comfortable with the networking process. Once you have an employer’s attention, make your conversation memorable, but don’t draw it out. Use what you learned about the company to impress. A short but interesting conversation is more likely to stick out in an employer’s head and be sure to mention at least one thing they can remember about you. (Don’t forget to grab a business card – it’s the whole point!)
The most important thing to remember throughout this whole process is to be confident! Smile, make direct eye contact, maintain good posture, use a firm handshake and speak confidently about your skills and experience. Be yourself! That is what employers really want to see.
You came, you saw, you conquered… now what? Make sure to reach out to the employers you spoke with at the fair. E-mail the recruiters to thank them for their time and be sure to include some of the information you spoke to them about so they can remember which student you are. Attach an electronic copy of your resume.
I hope this insider’s take on the career fair will help you really stand out from the crowd this year. Would love to hear any other tips you have for rocking a career fair!
About the Contributor
Trista Stahr, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Director of Human Resources. Trista has over 10 years’ experience in the field of Human Resources and is passionate about aligning business goals with career goals for the people of Ross & Baruzzini, improving employee relations, and encouraging a healthy work environment. Trista has previously served on the Webster University Alumni Board, YWCA Leader Lunch Steering Committee, Junior Achievement, Lewis and Clark SHRM, and Missouri State Council of SHRM. She holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources and SHRM-Senior Professional certifications and received a Master’s in Human Resources Management and a Master’s in business administration from Webster University.