The annual return to college campus is in full swing across the country, and you are likely thinking about many things – getting the perfect class schedule you want so badly (no Fridays, no 8AM lectures), and all those other truly important matters (securing your football tickets and outfitting your dorm room with all the really cool stuff you just love having around you). But, what you are very likely not thinking about is finding your 2017 Summer Job. Or, maybe, since you are in your freshman or sophomore year, you think you don’t need to be attending career fairs yet.
Whatever other plans you make this fall, please, please, please don’t make the mistake of missing these valuable experiences. It’s never too early to be attending career fairs, making contacts, and learning more about the career field you are considering for life after graduation. After all, your college years are going to fly past you at the speed of sound (perhaps you are already feeling this happening?), and the “real world” – ugh, beckons!
Here’s the good news: Career Fairs can be a great venue for networking, and making valuable contacts that will help you to eventually land your first, full-time paying job. I know, some of you cringe whenever you hear the “networking” word. If that’s you, then you may want to refer to my earlier blog post on “What Is Your College Student Doing This Summer?” It touches on the benefits of networking and how to get started in the process. And, that’s the real key to all of this – you need to Get Started.
So then, how to go about it?
The first step in preparing for a career fair is to locate the online information about the event – typically a website or part of the college career site. Look for the list of employers participating and the schedule of events. Read through the process to get registered and upload your resume if that option is offered.
Review the list of participating employers and determine the ones you want to visit while at the fair. You likely will not recognize all of the employers on the list, so do some research and visit the company websites. The larger, and more well-known employers will get everyone’s attention, but there are many great companies that have meaningful internship opportunities, as well as full-time positions, for which they will be interviewing at these events. It just takes some time to review the employer list and to become familiar with these lesser known organizations.
Next: Prepare! Get nice, clean copies of your resume made and have them with you the day of the event. Clean and press your business attire! This is no time to be looking like you just crawled out of bed. It’s also no time to be showing off with wild colors or a lot of fancy jewelry that could be distracting. Save that for the sorority party this weekend.
You will also get a lot of benefit if you practice, out loud, your “elevator speech”. This is your thirty to sixty second “commercial” on who you are and what type of work you are seeking. It takes time to write and more time to practice, but it is time well spent as it will make a huge difference in the impression you make with employers. A clear, confident interaction goes a long way toward making you “memorable”, and may result in a return call or email from the company.
And, remember, all of this needs to occur before the event. To make the most of a career fair, you simply must spend time preparing for it. Dedicate time towards your preparation as if it were an important school project. You’ll be glad you did.
Finally, it’s time for you to attend the career fair. Give yourself extra time to be sure you arrive at the event early – just prior to when it is scheduled to start. If you are interested in the large employers that many of the other job seekers will be trying to see, go to those booths first and then back track to the others you have an interest in.
Remember, also, that every interaction is important. Walk confidently (not cocky), smile and be sure to project a professional image. This is not just important as you approach an employer’s booth, but also as you walk through the fair. You never know who you are walking next to or talking with, and they just might be the person who will play a key role in helping you find a great opportunity. The simple rule to remember is this: Treat everyone you meet at the event as if they were a hiring manager. Share your resume and get business cards.
Finally, after the career fair, follow-up by email or with a handwritten note to those whom you met. It would amaze you to know how many people forget or choose to skip this critical step, and thereby get left out of the next round of contacts from the company. It takes only a bit more time, and will go a long way in separating you from all of the other candidates at the fair.
So, then. You may be thinking that the career fair is just one afternoon on the calendar, but you need to change your thinking because it takes much more than that to make the most of it. Take the necessary time to prepare in advance of the event, and you will reap the maximum rewards from attending!