Career fairs can be intimidating, but they’re also a great way to get some face time with hiring managers—so long as you prepare well.
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College recruiting season will soon be in full effect. In fact, companies are gearing up right now to scour universities across the country for talent. As a college senior hungry for your dream job, or an alum who’s realized the difficulty of landing any job, you should start updating your resume and shopping for a suit today, as you will certainly come face-to-face with corporate recruiters doling out swag at some point this fall.
While attending a career fair can be a smart way to get your resume out there, it can also be daunting. If you’re not ready for it, you may quickly find yourself becoming intimidated, overwhelmed and just plain exhausted. That’s why having a strategy is so important.
Preparation is key to maximizing your efforts and making the most of your career fair experience. So, here are a few tips to help you do that, whether you’re a career fair novice or seasoned job seeker.
Make your A & B lists
Most colleges post a list of all attending companies to the Career Services section of their website or in the school newspaper. A few days prior to the career fair, review the list and jot down your top 10-15 dream organizations. Then research each of these companies.
Check out their corporate and career sites, do a Google search and take a look at Indeed.com or Glassdoor.com to read what others are saying about the company. Most importantly, know the positions that they’re hiring for and tailor your resume to each of these companies.
On the day of the career fair, while you’re still fresh and energized, start with your A list. You’ll want to approach these companies and demonstrate that you’ve done your research. (This will make you stand out from about 95 percent of all other job seekers.)
Introduce yourself and say something like, “Hi, my name is So-and-So, and I’m majoring in Such-and-Such. I knew that ABC Company was recruiting today, and I’ve visited your career site. I’m very interested in your Analyst position and understand you’re looking for candidates with D, E and F, which I have. Can we talk more about this opportunity?” [Now hand the corporate rep your tailored resume.] Wow! That person will be impressed.
After you spend time talking with your A list, be sure to ask for business cards so you can follow up later.
Now, you need to be realistic with your A-list companies. Maybe you’ve always wanted to work for ABC, but when you finally get the chance to learn more, you realize they don’t have any jobs in the city where you want to live. Or you don’t have the appropriate GPA for the type of program you really want. Or the corporate rep was a real dolt and made you realize you’d never want to work there. Use your time wisely, sell yourself to them, but also gather as much information as you can about the company.
Once you’ve visited your A list, you’ll want to start checking out your B-list companies. These are organizations you’ve heard of before, ones that seem interesting but that you want to learn more about so you can decide whether or not to fully pursue them. Make sure you have a resume to offer the recruiter so you can have a conversation about your experience, and then ask questions to see if they’re looking for someone like you. Try to do some research on your B-list companies so you don’t seem completely oblivious, and ask for a business card for following up after the fair.
Think outside your lists
Even though you’ve planned your work and worked your plan, you should still give yourself plenty of time to peruse other companies at the fair.
At first thought, some companies or industries may seem less sexy than others. Maybe you’ve never considered working in insurance, with rental cars or in retail, but there are fantastic training programs and career opportunities within all sorts of industries! Have an open mind. It doesn’t hurt to talk to recruiters, establish connections and keep all of your options on the table.
The work ain’t over when the fair shuts down
Hopefully, you took notes during the career fair and gathered a slew of business cards, because that information will help with your follow up. Check out a free business app for job seekers called CardMunch by LinkedIn, which allows you to take pictures of business cards and then save the contacts directly to your iPhone. Once the cards are uploaded, you can also request to connect via LinkedIn. (Of course, you need a LinkedIn account for this to work, but you probably already have one anyway.)
Once your contacts are in order, review your notes and the brochures you picked up. Go back through your A list and decide which companies to apply to. Most will require you apply online. There’s no real way around that, so carve out enough time to thoughtfully and thoroughly complete the required applications.
A quick little reality check: some companies might require that you apply closer to the time you’re actually able to start a job. If that’s the case, set calendar reminders and file that information away for another day. If you land something sooner, oh well—their loss.
If you’re genuinely interested in a company, social media is the way to stay connected and learn more about them. So, “like” their corporate and career pages on Facebook and “@ message” companies and individual recruiters on Twitter. Watch videos on YouTube or participate in discussions on LinkedIn. If you’re truly a viable candidate, recruiters will want to stay in touch. So use these sites to ask questions, prepare for interviews, get an inside view of the corporate culture and maintain open connections with decision makers.
Do you have any tips to add for getting results from in-person career fairs?
Shannon Smedstad spends her days as the employment brand and social media manager for a major U.S. auto insurer and has more than 12 years of HR experience. You can connect with her on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.