By: Suzanne Buzek
I’m not going to lie, I can count on both hands the number of years it’s been since I walked around a college career fair as the student. I have a distinct memory of realizing after walking around all afternoon in my stiff pantsuit that I still had the store tag on my barely-broken-in heels. I cringe.
It wasn’t all bad. I got a lot out the experience (even if it was learning about what I didn’t want to do). Maybe some of my reflections below can help ease your pre-fair nerves and help you feel ready on the day of your college career fair.
Think about what you want
Are you looking for an internship for spring semester, a gig for next summer, or that long-term employment thing after graduation? Do you want a corporate-organized training program where you “try on” different parts of a company before getting into a more permanent role, or a role that’s made for you? Do you want for-profit, non-profit, agency or startup? Pursue and start conversations with those companies that fit into what you want.
Maybe you don’t know what you want. That’s okay! Take it from someone who was working on her Peace Corps application at the beginning of her senior year of college and then ended up at a corporation after graduation. Flip your uncertainty around and use it as a way to learn from recruiters about the company they are representing. Let yourself be curious. Recruiters were in your shoes once, too. Ask them what drew them to their company in the first place, what they like, what their challenges are, what a day in the life could be in the ____ department.
Look at the company list, career fair map ahead of time
Just because the career fair is three hours long doesn’t mean you have to be there for all three hours. Set a time limit for yourself as a start, peruse the list of companies expected to be at the fair, and make a point to stop by the ones that are important to you. Have some conversation starters or references to a current event for the company or industry top-of-mind, because smiling and grabbing a branded pen won’t get you anywhere.
Strategizing ahead of time can prevent you from aimlessly wandering around without much to say, leaving you with maybe one or two leads for future opportunity and lots of candy you won’t eat (or pens you won’t use). Additionally, the company list is bound to have highly recognizable names and ones you’ve never heard of—take a chance and go learn about some you’ve never heard of. You could find a gem.
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Go with a classmate or a few friends, split up to do your thing, then go grab a beer afterwards (or coffee) to compare notes. Who did they talk to? Are they inspired or excited about a particular company? Dishing about the experience with peers can help you come away with some perspective. Maybe a friend will give you an idea of an interesting way to follow up with a recruiter you met. You can always share your experiences with your professors, too. You never know who they could know at a company that impressed you, and they could help you with a warm (re)introduction.
Oh yeah, follow up!
Did you strike up an interesting conversation with a recruiter? Follow up with them! Send them an email the next day referencing your conversation. If you talked about a specific open position, inquire more about that and get going on your application.
Depending on the size of your school, career fairs could make you feel that you’re just one of many. Company recruiters may blitz five to 10 college campuses in a week, seeing a new sea of college students each day. Some basic preparation and a healthy mentality going in can make the experience worth your while, and taking the advice from your professors for the “nuts and bolts” stuff (flawless resumes on nice paper, looking and speaking professionally, and more) can help you get the most out of the college career fair.
Take a deep breath. You got this!
Psst … preparing for your upcoming career fair? Don’t miss the Fall 2016 Recruiter Panel on Sept. 7. Learn more and register today!