The Essential Guide to Career Fair Success

The Essential Guide to Career Fair Success

No matter what year you are, going to a career fair is both an exciting and daunting task. You’ll see representatives from really cool companies, along with organizations you’ve never heard of. And all of them will be talking to you about their company culture, available positions, and much more. How do you prepare?

Research the companies at the fair. Much of the time, recruiters at these career fairs hear, “So, what does your company do?” It is much more impressive for them to meet a recruit who says they have done research and can say that they’re interested in the company. Not only will this make you look good to companies, but it will also help you narrow down the booths you want to go to, making your career fair experience far more efficient. The research you do does not have to be extremely time-consuming - a quick look on their website to find out exactly what the company does is really the maximum of what you need to do. You can also prepare your elevator pitch and have it ready for the companies you want to work for. This leaves room for more interesting questions.

Speaking of questions, ask them. Some sample questions that you could ask are below, and this list is just a beginning:

  • What is the company culture like?
  • Tell me about the most meaningful project you (or your team) have worked on.
  • What are some projects I could work on?>
  • Tell me about some opportunities interns have gotten after their internships.
  • What is your interview process like?
  • Is there something missing from my resume that would make me a good fit for your company?
  • What can I do to improve my skills before we speak next?
  • How do I apply for this position?

Be respectful of the recruiter’s time. If you are in a super long line, make sure you’re not trying to talk to the recruiter for 20 minutes. You’re not just being respectful to the recruiter, but also the others who would like to speak with the recruiter. I would personally ask one or two questions max and take the recruiter’s business card. When you follow up with them in the future, you can reference the short conversation you had.

Have enough resumes! Time and time again, I have seen people run out of resumes, or just stop into a career fair to “see what it is about.” Even if you’re passively looking, you could find a company that piques your interest. Keep extra copies of your resume on hand. While this seems fairly obvious, it still is worth a reminder!

Handshakes count, and so does eye contact. I’m of two minds with this; first of all, if you’re sick, don’t shake someone’s hand. That is the only considerate thing to do at a career fair, especially since there are so many people in the room. However, if you are well, make sure that your handshake is strong (but not too strong). Handshakes can also vary—but if you’re prone to sweaty palms, try to have something to wipe your hands on, other than your pants. You should also make eye contact when speaking to the recruiter. It’s pretty awkward to speak to someone when they’re staring at the floor. Just like with a handshake, there is a delicate balance between good eye contact, and aggressive eye contact.

Personal space is also very important. A few times, I’ve had some students stand uncomfortably close to me, and when I tried to step back, they stepped closer to me. Please don’t be this person.

Dress appropriately. Make sure your clothes fit! First impression isn’t absolutely everything, but I constantly see people in suits that are 3 sizes too big, or something so brand new that they haven’t cut the seams in areas they’re supposed to. While formal business attire isn’t something we look for at WillowTree, it is nice to see people who have dressed for the occasion. I’ve seen people dressed to the nines, people in business casual, and people show up in pajamas. I’m a firm believer that you should be comfortable in what you wear, but sweats or pajamas take that to a bit of an extreme.

Have your “elevator pitch” prepared. Not only does this go for career fairs, but it also works for interviews. Have you ever heard the question “tell me about yourself?” You should have about a 30-second elevator pitch to share about yourself. I like to think of it as a little bit about your background (school, major, other internships), career aspirations, and a fun tidbit about yourself. Remember, around 30 seconds to a minute. I personally think this is one of the most important factors; I often remember someone with a strong pitch. There are many meaningful ways to speak about yourself, and I think your elevator pitch is the place to start. I personally like to hear about side projects you have worked on, and like to hear that people have confidence in themselves and what they do.

Follow up after the fair. If you take a business card and are really interested in a company, following up is always a wise decision. Surprisingly, very few students actually follow up, so those who do often stand out in my mind. Followup shows interest—and my favorite followup question is, “What can I do to be a strong candidate for an internship/job at your company?” After your followup, I hope that come away with either an interview or some steps to take to get an interview in the future. Take the recruiter’s advice: if they say you should work on a side project, or get some more experience somehow, do it. I love to see someone take my advice and come back to me. Good luck at your career fair!

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