As end of summer rolls around the corner and back to displays are popping up at your favorite department stores, along with the backpacks, laptops and the latest gizmos and gadgets, students returning back to college this fall should start giving some thoughts to the upcoming campus recruiting season.
While there are many kinds of job and career fairs, ranging from industry specific to region specific, the one thing they will all have in common is the opportunity for firms to meet and screen (out) a very large number of candidates in a brief amount of time. And anyone who has been to a career fair knows how small the window of opportunity there is for students to make a favorable impression on perspective employers. So, as someone who is often on the other side of the table, casting the judgmental eye on candidates, here are some tips and suggestions for students to improve your chances of not being screened out at one of these events.
No, the all upper case sub heading is not a typo. The most important part of a student’s job to prepare for a career fair is RESEARCH. As a recruiter I firmly believe there are 2 types of attendees at a career fair. Those that are either part of the crowd or those that stand out in the crowd. RESEARCH will give you a leg up on the crowd. How? Find out which companies are attending the event BEFORE the day of the career fair. Figure out which firms seem most interesting to you and read up on them. Today, there isn’t a single firm out there that isn’t on the web so there is absolutely no excuse to not do your RESEARCH.
You never want to run out of copies of your resume at a career fair. And while you are making copies, go the extra mile and make a couple different versions that address specific areas of your interest. For example a resume catered to a sales opportunity and a slightly tweaked version for a financial analyst position. There are numerous resources on the web to help you create a professional resume. Remember, keep it simple & professional – no fancy fonts, graphics or scented paper.
There is no gray area in attire at a career fair. Just like your resume, it should be simple and professional. Business attire is absolutely necessary – even if it is Google, Microsoft or Abercrombie & Fitch that you are interested in. If in doubt, be conservative. Similarly, keep perfumes, colognes and jewelry simple.
4. Plan of action
Yes, it is always best to have a plan of action when attending a career fair. Always arrive early – that’s when the recruiters are fresh and attentive. While you have already researched the companies, stop by registration to see if there are any last minute cancellations or additions to the attendee list. Next, do a quick lap around the career fair floor to get a layout of the land. While there are different thoughts on which order you should visit the firms, with most recommending you visit your top choices first, keep your plan fluid – most likely your top choice will most probably be the top choice of others also.
5. The 60 second interaction
This is what it all comes down to! While you may think that you will have 2-5 minutes of face time with the recruiters/representatives from the firm, the reality is that when there are hundreds of perspective candidates, you will only get a small window to make an impression. So, prior to the event, develop a 60 second elevator speech that highlights your strengths, interest and how you could add value to the firm (this is where the research you did beforehand comes in handy). Remember to make good eye contact, offer a firm & confident handshake and show enthusiasm. Needless to say, don’t fidget or chew gum. Also be prepared to answer questions about you, your background and your resume just like you would at an interview. A common question recruiters often ask is, “Why are you here today?” Lastly, make sure you have questions you could ask the recruiters if you are given the opportunity. Ensure that your questions show your interest and enthusiasm in their firm. For example, “tell me more about the culture at your firm.” A great concluding question to ask is, “What steps do I need to take to take my candidacy to the next level?” Make note of their response and follow up accordingly.
6. Follow up
You will be surprised how few candidates actually follow up with me despite getting my business card. So, those that do take the time to send me a thank you email automatically move to the top of the list of candidates I will consider. While there are many people out there that recommend you call or send a thank you note via mail, in today’s blackberry driven, fast paced and busy environment, it is my opinion that neither are as effective as a simple thank you email. It is quick, easy and accessible immediately by most recruiters. It doesn’t hurt to attach another copy of your resume along with the thank you email.
Remember, career fairs are all about networking. The firm you are most interested in may not have an opening at the time of the career fair but if you establish a professional relationship with the recruiter, it will go a long way in being considered when an opportunity does come open. In the same light, don’t forget to network with other candidates as well. Share information about your interaction, recruiting styles and recommendations. You never know where your next job lead will come from.
Remember, at the end of the day, career fair interactions are just a small piece of your overall job search strategy and while these tips won’t guarantee you an offer on the spot, hopefully they will enhance your experience at your next event. In the meantime, good luck in your job search and I look forward to seeing you at a career fair this fall.
Submitted by Amod Damle for the August 2008 Talent Buzz blog contest.