The art of attending career fairs

Print your resume and practice your handshake: Here’s how to make the most of your school’s career fair.

…

Career fairs can be a prime opportunity to learn about employers, make connections, and most importantly, present yourself professionally. The best-case scenario is you walk away with a few interviews lined up. But even if you don’t, you can walk away with a day of professional networking experience and new industry contacts. It’s really a win all around.

But if your school is advertising a career fair and you want to attend, don’t just roll out of bed and show up. Being prepared can score you bonus points and give you an advantage over your classmates. Here’s how to make your best impression.

Do come prepared.

Look at the career fair website and familiarize yourself with the employers that will be there. Simply by knowing what their company does, you can ask focused questions — meaning you’ll come across as prepared and capable. Print out several copies of your resume and keep them in a clean folder. If there’s one company that peaks your interest, you can take the extra step by tailoring a copy of your resume to their needs.

Don’t wear your school clothes.

The old adage, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” goes for career fairs too: This is a professional event, and you should wear professional attire. Remember, you have mere seconds to leave a first impression, and your clothes are one of the first things people observe about you. Also keep comfort in mind: Check your coat so you’re not dragging it through the event, and wear shoes that look professional but won’t hurt your feet from walking around all afternoon..

Do create a game plan.

When you walk into the event, you’ll likely get a map of the employers’ booths. Figure out where the employers you’d most like to work for are located, and decide in what order to visit them. Instead of trying to get to every booth to maximize your exposure, try narrowing down your visits to the top three to five to really spend more time with.

Don’t forget to properly introduce yourself.

State your name, major, career interests, and what kind of job or internship you’re looking for. Don’t forget to smile, have a good handshake (firm but not a death grip!), and maintain eye contact — studies show if a speaker seeks out eye contact when talking, they appear to be more confident and competent.

Do ask thoughtful questions.

You’ve done research on these employers so you should have some specific questions in mind. But some basic open-ended questions include:

  • What does a typical day look like for the open position?
  • What initial training do you provide?
  • What are the skills and experiences you’re looking for in an ideal candidate?
  • What is the office culture like?
  • What are the next steps in the recruitment process?

Don’t hold on to your resume until the end.

Too many times students wait until the very end of their time at the booth to hand over their resume. Give your resume to recruiters as you introduce yourself — this allows them to skim it and better absorb your qualifications as you speak to them. And, ask for their business card in exchange.

Do follow up.

Recruiters meet many students at career fairs. Keep yourself top-of-mind beyond the fair day by sending a follow-up email after the event (another reason gathering business cards is key). State your interest in their available positions, and inquire about next steps.

Don’t get frustrated.

First career fair didn’t work out exactly the way you wanted, or the employers represented didn’t really cover your career choice? Don’t fret. Look online for other opportunities — if not at your school, at other schools nearby or elsewhere in your city.