College career fairs can be exhausting and are probably the last thing you feel like attending as a college student. It takes away from valuable free time, you have to change into something other than sweatpants, and then have to spend time awkwardly interacting with people you don’t know. Now that I'm the one representing my organization at college career fairs, I've gained a whole new perspective. Career fairs are incredibly important to both the employers and the schools putting them on, and to make the most of these events, the planning starts long before the fair itself.
What recruiters wish you knew about career fairs
They want to hire you! Employers have skin in the game. They have chosen to spend valuable office time or time away from their families to travel, often overnight, to get to know YOU, so they want to make it worth their while. There are many reasons why recruiters choose a specific school from which to recruit. The school might have a top program in the field from which they're looking to hire or the company has a top executive that’s an alumnus or alumna. Regardless of the reason, companies who attend are looking to hire.
Employers plan too! Preparation starts 6 months in advance because space is limited for these fairs and registration isn’t free. They spend time designing an eye-catching booth and customizing fun swag and informational materials in order to make the best impression. Most of these materials contain useful information about the company, career opportunities, and how to apply. Let’s face it, who doesn’t like free stuff? Take what we brought, review those materials, and let us know if you like it!
Come early and don’t linger. The best time to attend a career fair is at the beginning of the event. Recruiters speak to many students, so get in there, shoot your elevator pitch, ask your questions, and hit the next booth on your list before a line starts to form in front of you. As the day progresses, recruiters start to lose their voices and energy levels begin to wane, so it’s always good to make your impression as early into the event as possible.
Recruiters care about you and will review your resume if you thoughtfully present it to them. Take advantage of this, it’s not every day you have industry professionals giving you useful feedback to enhance your resume.
How to make the most out of this experience
Dress for success. First impressions are important and they start the moment you walk up to a recruiter. Coming from the gym or an all-night cram session might not give off the impression that you’re interested in looking for a professional career. Shower, brush that hair, and dress in business casual attire if you feel like a suit just isn’t your jam.
Personalize your outreach. If you made a connection with a recruiter, find out how you can contact them and send a thank you email. Don’t take it the wrong way if they don’t give you their business card (recruiters get hundreds of emails after a career fair and don’t always remember to give out their cards) but you can send a thank you note and express your interest either on your application cover letter or as a note to the company’s “careers” email address. Reference the recruiter’s name and how they impacted you.
Do your research beforehand. Remember that recruiters will speak to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of candidates throughout the year. How will you stand out? Colleges tend to send a list of employers to students prior to the fair. Check out the company’s website and peruse their open positions. You’ll have a much more meaningful conversation if you are referencing a specific opportunity.
Hone your elevator pitch. You have a small amount of time to relay who you are and why you should be considered. Create a clear and concise pitch that summarizes these points in 60 seconds or less. Some questions you might be asked: What is your major? When do you graduate? What are you looking for? What is something we wouldn’t know about you from looking at your resume?
Go into a career event with the mentality that this is a networking opportunity that may even get you a job! This won't be the last time in your professional career that you are in a loud room, surrounded by people you don’t know, and asked to sell yourself in 60 seconds or less. Use this time to practice your networking skills!
Apply through the company website even if you handed your resume to a recruiter. Recruiters will take your resume and plan to reach out to you when they get back to their office if they are interested. Don’t leave your career to chance! If you are truly interested in the opportunity, err on the safe side and submit your resume through their website.
You don’t have to have everything figured out yet. After all, it’s a college career fair and the first step towards taking on the real world. Take advantage of the experience you gain at these fairs so that when you are ready to take that next step, you know what you want and can confidently launch your career in a role with a company you love. I look forward to seeing you at the next one soon!