Career fairs can be busy, loud and hectic. If the thought of attending one makes you feel excited, anxious, uncertain or fearful, you're not alone. All of these are common reactions, according to Adrienne Ables-Sinclair, SHRM-CP, senior manager of talent acquisition for ARC.
Knowing what to expect and what you want to accomplish at a career fair can help minimize any feelings of apprehension you may have and equip you to get the most out of the experience.
"You can turn any nervousness or anxiety into confidence by planning wisely," said Nicole Belyna, SHRM-SCP, manager of talent acquisition and inclusion at the Society for Human Resource Management. "Find out who will be there, what you should bring and the dress code. Once you know what to expect, you can focus on discussing skills and competencies."
Set yourself up for a successful career fair with these nine tips.
1. Get Prepared
Update your resume and LinkedIn profile. Bring printed copies of your resume with you, and save it in Word, Google Docs or PDF format so you can follow up afterward with the recruiters you meet.
Before you go, Belyna also suggests:
- Checking with Career Services to see if it is possible to schedule time for any employers of choice.
- Reviewing and researching participating organizations.
- Creating a list of top employers so you can allocate enough time to visit their booths.
- Finding out what the companies do, what roles are available and what makes these employers unique.
"Be prepared to speak to these points when engaging with recruiters," she added.
2. Practice What You'll Say
Ables-Sinclair says one of the most common mistakes students make is not knowing what to say when approaching an employer. Often, students wait for the recruiter to speak to them rather than proactively introducing themselves and explaining what brings them to the company's booth.
"Employers will immediately gravitate toward confident students who take the initiative and show genuine interest in their opportunities," she said.
3. Explore All Your Options
Engaging exclusively with highly visible employers could limit your prospects. Plan to spend time networking with companies or businesses that aren't as well-known.
"I've seen students wait in line or only attend career fairs to speak with the more popular companies," Ables-Sinclair said. "This approach can limit your opportunity to get your first internship or full-time job after graduation or prevent you from getting the practice [you] need to navigate career fairs successfully."
4. Use the Buddy System Strategically
There is a feeling of safety in numbers, and it is OK to show up with a friend or two. But Ables-Sinclair says it's also essential to separate from your friends and have conversations with employers on your own.
"It can help you build stronger connections, and it can create an opportunity for you to shine," she explained.
5. Map Out a Plan
Three to four days before the career fair takes place, map out a navigation plan for the companies you hope to target. Most universities or other hosts of career fairs will provide a list of employers and a floor plan of where recruiters will be sitting.
6. Craft an Elevator Pitch
Catch a recruiter's attention quickly with a 30-second pitch. Include a brief introduction of who you are, your major, your year of graduation and why you're interested in working for that particular company.
"Start with a quick introduction, what you want to do, and what makes you unique or how you can add value to an organization," Belyna said. "Take notes about the interaction to help decide if you're still interested in the organization and what follow-up action is required."
7. Don't Show Up Empty-Handed
Leave bulky backpacks, oversized bags and purses in your room. Instead, Ables-Sinclair recommends bringing a folder or professional notebook to keep your resumes organized, plus a pen and paper in case you need to take notes on an application process or next steps.
8. Show Up
You can't network if you don't show up. Just being there is a big step and can go a long way in forming relationships with employers, Ables-Sinclair said.
9. Follow Up
Immediately after the career fair ends, connect with the recruiters you spoke with and follow their companies' LinkedIn pages for news and job updates.
Belyna emphasizes the importance of personalizing a follow-up note. E-mail recruiters and thank them for their time, remind them where you met, and reiterate your interest in opportunities within their organization. Include a key takeaway or detail from your interaction with them at the booth.
"Don't get discouraged if the recruiting process doesn't happen quickly—or at all," she added. "A career fair is only one avenue to get your foot in the door at an organization."