How To Make The Most Out of a Career Fair
Last week, intern Joy Sun offered us a thorough analysis of why career fairs are the worst. While her opinions definitely ring true for most of us, career fairs persist as the mainstay status quo for people trying to get jobs on college campuses. If they’re going to exist, and you’re going to feel like you have to go to them, you might as well get some value out of them. Here are the five keys to making your career fair experience worth a damn!
Do your research & have a plan
What’s a surefire way of having a quality conversation? Actually knowing what you’re talking about is a good start. Look at the list of attending companies ahead of time and identify a couple that catch your eye. Spend some time researching the ins and outs of their business and what makes their company unique. This will not only make you a more informed “shopper” but can give you ammo with which to impress a recruiter. If possible, do some research on the location of all the companies at the career fair. Map out a battle plan for those companies you’ve researched. When you first get to the career fair, do a lap and take note of interesting companies before you start talking to any. By being prepared, you’ll have an easier and more efficient time.
Your first instinct might be to talk to anything with a pulse and try to amass brochures like Mario coins. You’ll find, however, that this gets you almost nothing after you leave. You’ll recycle the brochures, you’ll forget the names and faces of the people you’ve talked to, and you’ll later realize how little interest you had in some of the companies you spoke with.
That’s why it’s better to do your research beforehand and to only focus on a select few companies. Make sure to tailor a story for yourself and have a spiel prepared about why you’re interested in their internship program and company culture.
Some good questions to think about: Why are you good for them? What about your academic, extracurricular, or work experience has prepared you for their opportunities? What have you done that gives a credible indication that you’re passionate about their industry or business? These are the things that will stick out. Employers care about academics less than you think, and they’ll hear dozens of students’ majors and GPAs. Tell them something more interesting!
In general, try to aim for quality conversations over quantity. And don’t feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity because you’re skipping a table. By choosing to have more in-depth conversations with 3-10 companies, rather than talking to 20+, you’ll gain a stronger understanding about them,and whether they’re a good fit; and you’re also more likely to be memorable to their recruiter when you reach out later.
You’re going to get better at talking about yourself and interacting with recruiters throughout the event. It might be nerves, it might be real-time feedback on what gets the best reaction, it might just be repetition, but either way, you’ll be better in your fourth conversation than your first. So don’t make the first one your dream company. Take one or two “practice runs” with companies you don’t particularly care about. Maybe pick the ones giving away the best swag. Then, once you’ve worked out the kinks, move up to the companies you really have your eye on.
You’re in charge
It’s easy to feel like career fairs are a dog and pony show, where the desperate students march around hoping that one of the all-powerful companies will generously take them in. But falling into this mindset will stress you out, make you feel like you need to talk to everyone, and will make you come across as thirsty and desperate.
Instead, remember why you’re there — to find a job or internship that is right for you. Be scrutinizing. Skip the tables that aren’t interesting. Don’t wait in line for the popular ones just because everyone else is.
While the power dynamic looks, on the surface, very skewed toward the employers, realize that recruiters hate career fairs, too–for most of the same reasons you (and Joy) do. They spend a whole day on their feet, faking smiles and feigning interest in hundreds of precocious dressed up college students they’ll never talk to again. They are desperate to have some meaningful interactions and to talk with candidates who truly want to work at their company.
Although it’s difficult to stand out and apart from the crowd at the fair itself, it can actually be easier after the fact. Get the recruiter’s business card or at least their name, and send a follow up email the next day reaffirming your interest. They’ll talk to dozens of candidates during the fair, so you’re unlikely to be remembered just from your brief conversation. But they won’t receive very many follow up emails, so that’s your chance to stand out! Reference something from your previous conversation, restate your interest, and ask a question or two about the process. Companies love seeing that you are proactive and genuinely interested. The farther out of your way you go to express your interest, the better — be bold!