Have you ever felt like a drunken sailor lost at sea while trying to navigate the harsh waters of your school’s career fair? If you’ve ever been looked at with the beady eyes of a hawk-like prospective employer, been pushed out of line by a competitive peer, or worn heels that literally give you ‘sea legs’ because you couldn’t walk anymore, it sounds like you could use the basic top 5 things to remember at a career fair.
1) Bring at least 10 copies of your resume: Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.
“The resume is a document students will find themselves reviewing time after time and adapting it for their particular need. Since most college students have no idea what career path to pursue (despite mother’s affirmation that her shining star is undoubtedly med-school bound), it’s important to highlight the experiences and skills which are most applicable to the field of your desired internship,” says Deepak Kaji, junior at Cornell University. You need to be ready to talk to employers from a variety of industries and explore your options.
That being said, practice how you might alter your ‘elevator speech’ based on the company to which you are speaking. Kaji explains that “[l]ast year’s summer job as a lifeguard might have more to do with a career in finance than one might expect. Both require an ability to communicate, to quickly evaluate a situation, and to act quickly. With some time and the right amount of resume finagling, you might just land your dream job.” So, come prepared with a small stack of resumes in hand—you want to get your name out there.
2) Go alone: You don’t want to spend the whole time talking to your friends.
“Usually at career fairs there are so many potential applicants with very similar resumes that it can be daunting,” says Sono Khan, sophomore at University of Maryland, Baltimore Country. He explains that “[y]our best bet is to stand out and make sure the potential employers see the unique contributions you can make to their organization.” One way that you can stand out is by going to the career fair solo instead of hiding behind your curtain of friends. If you are focused on talking with your friends then you are not effectively using your time with the widespread gathering of potential employers at your disposal.
3) Dress to impress: Opinions are formed within the first 10 seconds of meeting somebody.
Victoria Smallwood, junior at New York University, explains that dress “is the first visual that a potential employer has to get a feel of who you are based on how you represent yourself.” However, the dress code does not just include wearing any old suit. Smallwood explains that “[b]eyond the usual warnings of being too casual or, for ladies, showing too much cleavage, you want to make sure that your attire is ironed. Wrinkles are just not professional.”
4) Be on your toes: Anybody who wants to talk to you is worth your time so be alert.
Sometimes career fairs are challenging because employers will motion you over to their table when you may not know as much about their company as you do others. Even if you’re nervous, it’s worth your time. Adding one more connection to your network and practicing your professional skills never hurts. The trick is how you are going to make it a positive interaction that adds value to the view the employer has of you as a candidate. “Try to relate their opportunity to your future career and explain how it could be relevant for you in the long run,” says Kahn. If you need to ask questions about their opportunities to gather enough information to make these connections, feel free. Recruiters love intelligent questions.
5) Do all of the things that you learned in kindergarten.
-Smile to show that you are engaged
-Share, because you clearly don’t want your future employer seeing you try to push other kids out of the way to get your spot in line
-Show and tell your employer about all of the past experiences you have had and how they apply to your future with their company