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Monday, February 23, 2015

How to Work a Career Fair with Confidence

This piece was submitted by Career Field Consultant - Amy Deitrickson

Career fairs can produce anxiety. Speaking with a dream employer about an awesome position can make anyone nervous. However, you must keep your nerves under control. Good preparation will help you do that. Think of a career fair as a series of “mini-interviews” and give the fair the attention it deserves.  You can significantly increase your chances of successfully and confidently navigating your next career fair by following the recommendations below.

1.    Work on your resume. Employers expect to be given resumes at career fairs. Give them a document that is best represents your skills. Do not wait to the last minute to throw it together; give yourself plenty of time to get your resume right. Begin with the MSU’s Career Services Network’s publication called Career Passport. This guide is filled with valuable examples to help get you started. You can also attend a resume workshop or webinar for help. THEN schedule some time to have it critiqued by an career advisor through MySpartanCareer. Your resume is a working document and can always use improvement and updating.  MSU has resources to help you at Use them.

2.    Make a plan. Look over the list of employers who are attending the fair and choose which organizations you would like to focus on. Prioritize them. You will have limited time and some employers will have longer lines than others. Enter the fair with a strategy and use your time wisely.

3.    Research the organizations you are interested in.  Explore the organizations’ websites and search for them on Facebook and LinkedIn. Understand the organizations’ missions and open positions. Learn enough about them to ask informed questions at the fair. An employer can tell when a job seeker hasn’t done their homework by the questions they ask.  This is a major complaint from employers at career fairs. Do not be that job candidate who asks uniformed questions.

4.    Apply online before the event. Although hard copies of your resume will probably be exchanged during the fair, there is a great chance an employer will require you to also apply online. If you already know which positions you are targeting at the career fair, go ahead and apply for them ahead of time. That way, while conversing with an organization’s representative, you can mention that you have already submitted a resume and cover letter which demonstrates that you have genuine interest in the position.

5.    Pack appropriately. Take a portfolio or folder, something to write with, and several copies of your resume printed on high quality resume paper. Additionally, have the notes and questions from your research ready. Review them before approaching the employers.

Self introduction/Elevator speech.  Bring a well-rehearsed introduction. What will you say when the representative looks at you and says, “Tell me about yourself”? Be ready to respond confidently.  Your answer should include your name, year in school, and your major plus the opportunities you are seeking, your work experience, and the connection you feel with their organization. This statement is sometimes referred to as an elevator speech. It is basically a brief story about yourself that is so short you could pitch it during an elevator ride with a stranger. Develop your elevator speech and practice it. Practice it in front of the mirror, with your roommate, with your cat, with a family member.  Make sure you are concise and sound confident. 

Consider this, also- Company reps are humans who make mistakes and recruiting is not a hard science. The recruiters are using subjective reasoning to make decisions. Help them with their decisions by reducing their fears about making a mistake with you. Show them how well you have performed in other jobs by offering them past performance appraisals from your previous supervisors. Bring an evaluation, not a letter of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are by definition normally positive. Evaluations are more objective reflections.

Do not bring your friends. Employers want to know you as an individual. But, if your friends also happen to be there, do not travel in packs. Neither should you play on your phone while strolling around the tables. Being distracted by your phone does not make a good impression. Put the phone away. If you need to engage in last minute research about an employer, find an area away from the employers to work in.

Dress attire. Pay close attention to your appearance. A career fair is a professional event. Many of the recruiters will wear khakis and polo shirts but they are not there to find a job. However, you are. Make a strong effort to be dressed as professionally as possible. Keep your outfit conservative and simple. Wear sensible shoes.  If you own a suit, put it on.  If you do not own a suit, find one. Hopefully, you will need that suit for a formal interview soon anyways.  

Stay hydrated and keep your breath fresh. You’ll find quite a few goodies on the tables. Feel free to pick up some candy but save it for later. A career fair is not a good time for gum, taffy, or lollipops. Instead, rely on subtle mints that will not overwhelm others. And I repeat, NO GUM!

Above all, be equipped with a smile, a firm handshake, confidence, and enthusiasm.

6.    Get to the fair early and use your time wisely. Some employers do not stay for the entire fair. So, make sure you get there when every organization on your wish list is still in attendance. Additionally, employers get tired, too. Arriving early means you may get to spend time with the recruiter of your dream job while they are still energetic and have a decent attention span.

7.    Do some reconnaissance while at the fair. Listen, listen, and then try to listen some more. Not only listen carefully to what an employer is telling you, but listen to the conversations of others. Pay attention to what your peers are saying well and not-so-well. Then learn from them.

There may be long lines for some employers. Take advantage of the situation and casually post yourself near an employer or wait in their line. You can then hear what the employer and job candidates are discussing which means you can get an idea of the questions the employer is asking. Chances are the recruiter will ask you the same or similar questions when it is your turn. Once you have spent some time listening, walk away and consider your own answers to those same questions.

8.    Engage in relevant discussions with the employers. Use the research you have done to discuss the connection you have with their organization. Mention new initiatives, services, or products the organization is working on. Also, call them Mister, Miss, sir, and ma’am to show recruiters that you are polite and respectful. While doing this, make sure you pay attention to the recruiters’ body language. Try to sense when the employer is ready to move on. They have a job to do which is to make connections with job applicants. Do not monopolize an employer’s time. Do not let them think you possess bad communication skills by missing their signals that your turn is over.

9.    Keep a record of who you spoke to. Ask for business cards when speaking with recruiters to help keep track of your communication. You can then write relevant information on the back of the card which will help with your follow-up communication.

10.Be cognizant of the length of lines at various tables. Notice how some employers are getting more attention than others. The tables with shorter lines may translate to less competition for you. While they may not be at the top of your employer wish list, they could be an excellent option that you have overlooked.

If you are considering approaching an employer who you did not plan to speak with and therefore have not learned about, back off and look the employer up. Do not ignorantly start a discussion with a recruiter. This is the time to slip away and get out your phone. Learn about the organization and their positions.  Make the employer feel special by knowing who they are, what they do, and why you would be a valuable addition to their team.

11.   Write thank you emails to every representative you interact with. Reiterate your interest in the organization, remind them of why you are a good fit, and ask what your next steps should be. Do this within a week of the career fair.

If you did not apply for certain positions online prior to the event, you can use your new connections from the fair for applications following the event. Capitalize on the knowledge you gained during your discussion with the recruiter by tailoring your resume to highlight the skills the recruiter focused on and mentioning the recruiter’s name in the cover letter.

12.   Follow employers’ directions carefully. Precisely adhering to their processes will not only allow you to enter their candidate pools, it will also show the employers that you can follow instructions and are genuinely interested.

In a nutshell, keep your goal in mind which is to impress recruiters enough that they invite you to an interview. Practice breathing exercises, channel your energy into making a positive first impression, and practice that elevator speech. Knowing that you prepared by dressing appropriately, researching the employer, and having a current, polished resume, should ease your career fair jitters.

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