Career Fair Know-How: Advice from Student Experts

Woman sitting in chair waiting for job interview

Career fairs can be overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure what to expect. It can be intimidating to talk to recruiters, making sure you’ve got the right handshake and the right thing to say. Recently the Pearson Student Insiders hosted a webinar discussion on career fairs. Student experts Mai Nguyen and Avni Ball shared tips and advice on how to prepare, what to bring, how to talk to recruiters, and how to follow-up afterwards.

How to prepare for the fair

What research do you do beforehand to make sure you’re prepared?

Mai Nguyen, Junior, Liberty University

Mai – “My school’s career office website has a list of every company that is coming. I prioritize the ones I’m particularly interested in and visit their websites. I look for a contact email for recruiters who will be at the career fair and send a message expressing my interest in talking to them at the fair and asking about positions that may be open. The email gives me an opening when I’m actually talking to the recruiters at the fair. I can bring it up and start the conversation from there instead of starting cold.”

If there is a company you’re really interested in, do you connect with their recruiter on LinkedIn before the event?

Avni Bali, Junior, Rutgers University

Avni (Junior, Rutgers University) – “I usually wait to connect until after I’ve had an interview. At the fair I ask for the recruiter’s card and then send an email following the event.  Then if I get an interview I’ll ask if we can connect on LinkedIn. But it could make you stand out to a company you’re super interested in. Go for it! It’s important to add a note though. Introduce yourself and include the specific event and that you’re looking forward to meeting them.”

What should you bring to the career fair?

Avni – “I bring a padfolio with my notes on any research I’ve done on the companies and questions I have. A pen is important and I bring a lot of copies of my resume. Many companies now take a picture of your resume on their iPad to save paper on their side but you may need physical copies. I brought 10 copies.”

Business cards and resumes

Have you ever given a business card of your own at a career fair?

While business cards are not as common anymore they can be effective for students in creative majors or majors that lead to careers where freelancing is common. If you can showcase some of that type of work in a card it may make you stand out. Student Insider Michael Hernandez shared his experience.

Michael – “As a job seeker, I’ve learned that one way to stand out among other candidates is to have your own business card. I keep it simple – nothing too crazy. I have my name, my phone number, my major and a little QR code that links to my LinkedIn profile. It is an easy way for a recruiter to scan it when they have time and learn more about you than what’s on your resume. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Any recommendations on how to print your resume?

Mai – “I attended a workshop by my school’s career office where they encouraged us to print our resumes on higher quality paper, maybe even in a subtle color. Recruiters will receive a lot of resumes on that day and when they go back to sort through them that nicer paper can actually make them take a second look.”

The big day is finally here!

Your resume looks great and you’re dressed for success. You may experience last minute jitters regardless of your advance preparation. Several Insiders suggested these ideas to get those nerves under control:

  • Take a few deep breaths – in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Practice a firm handshake.
  • Try ‘power posing’  and positive self-talk to boost confidence.
  • Once you walk in, walk through the whole room to get a good overview.
  • Make your first visit to one of your lower priority companies.
  • Remember you have nothing to lose! Believe in yourself and your resume.

How do you get the conversation going with a recruiter?

Avni – “I try to connect with them by asking different things like ‘What are the company’s volunteer efforts in the community?’ or ‘How is the work/life balance for your employees?’ I try to make a personal connection and have an actual conversation. And it has worked for me. I’ve had interviews where the interviewer remembered me from career fair because they’ve remembered talking about something different with me. I try to make it a more personal, long-term connection.”

What can you do to stand out when you don’t have experience for that particular position?

Mai – “When you have the job description, sometimes the title doesn’t matter that much. Look at what skills the job requires. Do you have those skills? For example, someone in marketing needs to be persuasive and have good communication skills. Someone in business management needs skills in leadership, organization, and time management. Once you know the skills, you can show you’ve developed those skills even if it is through a different type of position.  Learn to use what you already have. And show them that you’re willing to learn. Companies are looking for candidates who are coachable.”

How do you sell yourself to a particular company for the job opportunity you want?

Avni – “That’s the hardest and scariest part. It’s a process. It will never be completely right. The best way is to just be yourself. We’re told in class to have a 30 second pitch. It’s good to practice but I feel when I memorize too much I don’t feel natural and then I become awkward. Highlight your name, your year, your major, your interest in the position, skills and experience of particular interest to that company or job. Try to keep it natural. Look for connections. I always ask ‘What does a day in a life of this internship look like?’ and ‘What’s your advice for someone to succeed in your program and get that full-time offer at the end of the internship?’ Show that you want to grow.”

How do you phrase your questions to show you’ve done advance research?

Avni – “If the internship program has a specific name, definitely say the name, don’t refer to it generically. If it carries forward to a full-time position, show that you know that, too. Connect small details to show you know the technical terminology that the company uses. Know that company’s lingo. Mention any recent articles about the company that you’ve read. It shows you go the extra mile.”

While you might spend a few hours at the fair, part of that time is waiting in line to speak with recruiters. Once it’s your turn at a company’s table, what’s the appropriate amount of time to spend talking?

Mai – “It can depend on how well you’re hitting it off with the recruiter. Try not to make it too long, maybe about 3 to 5 minutes. Be aware of long lines waiting behind you. Ask for the recruiter’s card and say you’d like to talk with them further later. Don’t walk away without a way to follow up.”

 Following up after the event

What’s the appropriate timeframe to follow up and what’s the best way to follow up?

Anvi – “I usually do it within 24 hours after the last day of the event. They will see it when they are back in their offices and sitting and reviewing their emails. Send it in the morning so it’s right there first thing. Remind them of who you are and any unique thing you talked about. Ask about next steps in the process. I include my contact info again and include a link to my LinkedIn profile in my signature.”

Mai – “And after I send my follow up emails, I take all the contacts I got at the career fair and create an excel spreadsheet with all of their contact information. Then I insert the date I sent an email follow up, and whether they responded back to me so I’ll know who I need to follow up with again.”

Special thanks to Avni, Mai, and all the Insiders who joined this webinar to learn about and share ways to achieve success at college career fairs. The Pearson Student Insiders regularly features tools to help students like to you achieve success! Join us for future webinars on timely topics. If you’re not already an Insider,  click here to apply.

Pearson Students – did you attend a career fair on your campus this semester? Share your tips and advice in the comments below!

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