Your final year of school is winding down, and your future looms ahead. To borrow a line from your required undergraduate reading, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”
Answering that question is never easy, but attending your college’s career fair is a great way to get thinking about what’s next. If you decide to attend, follow our tips to learn how to prepare, connect, and make the most of the experience.
Before the Career Fair
The first thing you should do if you decide to attend is research companies that will be at the fair. If you find a few companies that interest you, jot their names down. Then, research these companies online. Learn their missions and goals, and aim to get a handle on their culture. Most importantly, understand what they do.
You’ll need to create a general-yet-specific resume for each company you’re interested in connecting with. These resumes won’t be tailored to specific jobs, but they should align with what the company does—here’s where the info you gathered about the company’s mission, goals, culture, and function comes into play.
Once you’ve generated resumes for each of your target companies, attach post-it notes to each. The post-it note should include the name of the company. Taking this step will save you from confusion once you’re at the fair, for you’ll easily be able to spot which company gets which resume.
Once you have resumes squared away, practice and perfect your elevator pitch. Your elevator pitch should say who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what you can do. Below is an example.
“I’m Francesca, an English Literature major with a passion for writing. In my time at UC Davis, I received an A on 85% of my essays while working 20 hours a week at my part-time job. I excel in fast-paced, deadline-driven environments and feel comfortable multi-tasking. I’m looking for an entry-level job that will allow me to combine my existing passions and skills while developing new ones.”
As you work on your pitch, prepare to answer questions about leadership. Because you don’t have much — or any — professional work world experience, recruiters and company representatives will be interested in learning about any leadership experiences you’ve had. Think about times that you took a leadership position in college. Whether you choreographed dances or organized a charity event, get ready to showcase the leader within you.
Now it’s time to discuss your appearance. Put a professional outfit together. Search for “business casual” on Pinterest to get an array of ideas. If you can’t afford fancy clothes, don’t stress! Check out consignment shops in your area. Resist the urge to purchase from a fast fashion retailer. These stores offer products that are of notoriously poor quality. You can’t risk a button popping on your big day!
Consider getting a manicure, or giving yourself one. Gentlemen, that includes you too! You will shake a lot of hands during the career fair, so it’s important to have tidy, filed nails. If you have unicorn hair, facial piercings, or visible tattoos, then research your industry to see if it demands a more formal look. If it does, steer away from the edgy looks described in the preceding sentence.
The Day of the Career Fair
Start your day with a big, healthy breakfast. Try to get a protein, carb, and vegetable or fruit in your meal. Drink half as much coffee or tea as you usually do. This day is already nerve-racking; loads of caffeine could make you come across as jittery and unstable.
Be aware of any nervous tics. Do you play with your hair? Then style it out of your face to avoid temptation. Perhaps you talk and interrupt too much. Pause and wait a few seconds before speaking. Whatever you do, try to tone it down.
Talk to your target companies. Approach them alone. Share your elevator pitch. If you mess up, laugh it off and say, “Can you tell I’m nervous?” And then, calmly continue. Recruiters and company reps were in your shoes once, and they will empathize with you if you are genuine. Remember your manners! “Please,” “thank you,” and firm handshakes with eye contact go a long way.
Get ready for on-the-spot interviews. When recruiters or company reps ask questions, keep your answers short. Don’t ramble. When you answer questions, aim to use the STAR method: state the situation, the task you had to do, then your action to complete the task, and finally the result.
Finally, remember to present the recruiter or company rep with your tailored resume! And collect their business cards, too. While you’re at the fair, network with other attendees as well. Ask any new contacts to keep you updated about openings they might come across in the field you’re aiming to land a job in. Also, listen to any job seeking advice that they give. Get their contact information for future reference.
After the Career Fair
After the fair, follow up with the companies that you spoke to. Unless a recruiter or company rep specifically told you how to reach them, use the contact information on the business cards that you collected. Remind them of your conversation so that they can place you. Thank the recruiters by name and tell them that you’re interested in the position and you’d like to talk to them again. Keep your message short and to-the-point.
If you receive a negative response from a recruiter or company rep, ask for feedback. Accept their feedback with gratitude and take it into account in the future. Use this as a learning opportunity.
Finally, treat yourself. This is an exhausting process, and you survived it. Show some self-care as you prepare for the winding road of life changes ahead.
“What’s it going to be then, eh?”
You can’t answer this question immediately after your career fair, but you can take pride in knowing that you’re one step closer to developing a career path. If you prepare adequately, conduct yourself professionally during the fair, and follow up diligently, then you will reap the benefits of your hard work.