The career fair—a place full of high energy and high competition. It’s one of the only times employers come to students with job descriptions in hand and where face-to-face networking is the norm. With dozens of companies to talk with and hundreds of students to choose from, it is essential to come to the career fair prepared so you can stand out as a job candidate.
One of the best ways to stand out amongst your peers is to do your research. If your school uses an online event and networking platform, it is likely that you can see which companies are attending, what areas have open positions and if they are looking for interns or full-time employees. Otherwise, you may ask the school career center for a list of companies who will be attending the fair.
Identify the companies you are interested in talking to and begin your background research. First, look into the open positions they have posted and see if any are a good fit for you. Then, learn more about the department you would work in. See if you can find information on projects they are currently working on and gain a basic understanding of that area. If the company has an exciting feature in the news or if one of the company’s core values aligns with your personal vision, be sure to mention this at the career fair.
Employers and recruiters love when students ask insightful questions about the company. Go beyond the typical “What do you like about your job?” question, and ask them something specific about the company culture or a recently onboarded client. Allow the recruiter sell the idea of working there to you. The career fair is just as much about you finding a company you fit into as it is about the company recruiting a new hire.
Pro Tip: Connect with recruiters and employers from your top-ranked companies on LinkedIn the week before the career fair. Send a personal message sharing that you are excited to meet them in person and learn more about the company. This will be an easy conversation-starter on career fair day and will give them a chance to look into your profile and accomplishments beforehand.
Trade in your athleisure attire for a business professional look for the day. Business professional outfits notably include a suit jacket with matching slacks or skirt and a plain dress shirt underneath. Wear a tie, tuck your shirt and add a belt to complete your masculine business professional look. For a feminine look, add minor accessories, such as a necklace or earrings, but make sure they are not too flashy. If you have long hair, pull it back so that it does not fall into your face and keeps you from playing with it subconsciously. If you typically wear makeup, go for a natural, nude-colored look on career fair day. Sport a pair of professional dress shoes or high heels. It is important that you are able to walk and stand comfortably in them for a long period of time, so break them in the week leading up to the career fair if needed. Check out Earn Up’s Professional Dress LookBook for examples of appropriate dress.
While all of this sounds like the opposite of standing out, that is exactly the point. It only takes seven seconds to form a first impression, and how you are dressed is a large factor of your first interaction. You want to appear professional and eager without being distracting. (Note: Certain industries operate on a more casual dress code or have a vibrant, artsy style. If your industry-of-choice falls into one of these categories, you may consider adjusting your outfit to match the industry norms. However, it rarely hurts to be overdressed in these situations, so business professional dress is always a safe bet.)
Pro Tip: When you arrive at the career fair, you will most likely receive a nametag. Place the nametag on your right shoulder below your collarbone. This ensures that your name is in the recruiter’s direct line of sight when you shake hands. A firm handshake, warm smile and spiffy outfit are effective ways to make a solid first impression.
While some recruiters may not look at your resume during the career fair, this will be their primary reference point. Depending on how many companies you aim to talk with, you should plan to bring a small stack of resumes with you to the career fair. Choose two or three of your top-ranked companies, and tailor a resume to match the job descriptions for each one. Use your generic resume for the rest.
An impressive resume plays a big part in landing your dream job or internship, and you want to optimize it to achieve your end goal. Your resume should feature the most important information on the top half—name, contact information, education and relevant experience. Bullet points should be made using strong action verbs, soft skills and measurable results. List hard skills—such as certifications and learned applications—as well as relevant coursework and accolades to show your industry knowledge.
Carry your resumes in a simple padfolio during the career fair. Most padfolios include a pocket, notepad and pen which are helpful for storing company handouts and writing important information down.
Pro Tip: Ask your career center or local office supply store if they have resume paper, which is sturdier and more professional than regular paper. When you print your resume, hold it up to the light and check if the paper’s watermark is right-side up. Since there are a lot of students at the career fair, employers tend to look for small details to rule options out. Do your best to make your resume completely error free!
With your research done, suit on and resume filled, you get to tackle the elevator pitch. Although you will not be in an actual elevator, your pitch should be about as long as an elevator ride—one minute or less. This is your chance to tell the recruiter the most important things about yourself and your job search. Once you introduce yourself, highlight your field of study, when you are looking to start an internship or employment and your relevant skills and experiences. You can choose to customize it for each company by mentioning how their services, values or location align with your goals for the future.
Make it personal without sounding like a robot. You do not want to overwhelm the recruiters and employers with a firehose of information. The point of the elevator pitch is to pique their interest and encourage them to ask about your strongest assets. Reference this Handshake article for some tips and examples to help you create your own perfect pitch.
Pro Tip: Practice makes perfect. Instead of going straight to the employer you are most excited about, visit another company’s booth first. This should help you get your nerves out and work through your talking points. It will not be a waste of time for either you or the recruiter, and it may work out in your favor!