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How to Prepare for College Career Fairs

College career fairs give students the chance to meet with several prospective employers under one roof. Attendance is not mandatory but can certainly be a helpful way to explore some of the career paths ahead of you. Even if you are not actively looking for a position right now, attending a career fair can help you make in-person connections with people you can network with down the road. This personal connection can improve the likelihood that a potential employer will consider you in the future.

Career fairs are generally held in student centers or large spaces where employers and recruiters can set up booths and tables. They are often organized by industry or field, making it easier for students to find prospective employers. The general purpose is for recruiters to meet casually with potential candidates and do some networking. For many students, attending a career fair can help give them some insight about industries they had not previously considered.

What to Expect

The fair will generally be an all-day event that students will have the opportunity to attend between classes. For this reason, you might want to consider an early morning visit to give you more time to meet with the recruiters. The lines are likely to be shorter, and you will have more time to get your questions answered.

Depending on the setup, you will usually get a chance to introduce yourself with a 60-second elevator pitch and submit your resume. Occasionally, some prospective employers will conduct short interviews on-site to determine if a student is a good candidate for a more extended meeting at company headquarters.

If you are interested in several different companies, you may find yourself spending a lot of time meeting with representatives. If this is the case, you should plan on making a day of it if you can.

How to Make College Career Fairs a Success

There are likely to be many other candidates at the fair clamoring for the attention of potential employers. Therefore, you will want to put your best foot forward if you’re going to make a good impression. Here are some tips to help optimize your success rate:

Do Some Research on the Companies in Attendance

You can usually find out which companies will be at the fair by looking at the event website. Print out a list if you can and make a note of any employers you especially want to meet with. Then, with your list in hand, carefully go over the human resources or career section of each company’s website to target any jobs that are a good match for you. Write out a statement on paper about why you think a position is a good fit for your skills and interests.

Do this for as many potential employers as you can. While you are on their websites, make a note of any recent company successes or news, as well as their core values and mission statements. The more you know about a company, the more you will be able to express genuine interest when it comes time to speak with a recruiter at the fair.

Prepare Your Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is simply a quick way to introduce yourself to a potential employer while highlighting some of your strengths and interests. However, if public speaking doesn’t come naturally to you, preparing and memorizing your pitch ahead of time is the best way to go. You can ask your professors, parents, advisors, faculty members, or friends to help you with this. Ask for some suggestions about what to say regarding the qualifications you have. Sometimes others can be better at formulating a more impressive statement about you than you could on your own.

Make sure you keep it under 60 seconds. You don’t need to list your entire objectives or job history; you want to share a compelling pitch that will spark the interest of a would-be employer.

Once you know what you want to say, practice, practice, and practice some more. Commit your pitch to memory, and when the day comes, you will be able to confidently rattle it off without a hitch.

Dress for Success

Yes, there will be many students in attendance who have just come from class and will be dressed casually. However, don’t let this be you. Pop back to your room and change between classes if you must, but it’s better to dress professionally than underdress. You will make a more lasting impression if you play the part. While many companies no longer require employees to dress up, it’s best to show your enthusiasm for a new position with the proper wardrobe choices.

During the Career Fair

Arrive as early as possible to be able to speak with your highest-priority companies before the lines start to build. Go down through your list and visit each booth one by one, introducing yourself with your elevator pitch and leaving your resume. Cover as much ground as you possibly can while still allowing enough time to speak with each recruiter personally.

Maintain a positive attitude throughout the event. If you need to take a break and regroup, go outside and have some water. Staying hydrated is essential and will help you maintain your energy.

Don’t Overlook Small Companies

While many students will be preoccupied trying to speak with recruiters for well-known brands, there is also a lot of competition in those arenas. Instead, be sure to talk to some smaller employers. While they may not be as well-known, many offer terrific opportunities and take on younger hires, giving them more responsibility than larger organizations.

Be Articulate and Enthusiastic

Watch your posture, your body language, and your tone of voice. Smile and try to project positive energy toward the person you are speaking with. Stand up straight and make eye contact. You don’t need to be fake or put on an act, just be genuine and let your personality and enthusiasm show through.

Make sure you collect any company literature and business cards from recruiters you are interested in. That way, you will have all the contact information you need to follow up after the fair.

After the Career Fair

After the event, gather all the handouts, brochures, and business cards for each company and organize them into separate files or folders. Within a day or two of the fair, you should follow up with each recruiter. Thank them for their time and compose a brief message that conveys why you would make a good candidate for a position with their company. If possible, try to request a future meeting where you can have a chance to explore the position further.

Final Thoughts

You don’t have to wait until graduation is on the horizon to attend a college career fair. Even as a freshman or sophomore, attending one of these events can help you begin preparing for your dream career. By the time you are ready to seek employment actively, you will be a career fair pro who is ready to present themselves impressively.

Proper preparation for a career fair will go a long way toward helping generate leads and contacts you can use later on.

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