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Attending a Career Fair

Why go?

  • To make a good (or great) impression in person (especially important if your resume doesn't necessarily stand out from the crowd).
  • To see that the real world is not organized by major: you don't have to be a business major to go to Business Horizons, and you don't have to be an engineering major to go to Engineering Expo. You DO have to look at the list of employers attending in advance (see each fair's web site linked from the career/job fair list), and see what kinds of jobs each employer has.
  • To learn more about employers than you can learn from their web site. You learn about the culture of an organization when you meet their people, and you can ask questions.
  • Much of the job search process — before you can even get an interview — for both you, the job seeker, and for the employer in trying to find good candidates, is not done in person. It involves employers screening resumes and cover letters, and you reading about employers and viewing their web sites, and the like. Take advantage of opportunities to meet employers face-to-face.
  • Some fairs include follow-up interviewing as part of the fair, for a full or half day. Each fair's web site should tell you if they do this.
  • Some of the employers who attend career fairs also participate in the On-Campus Interviewing Program. Meeting students in person at fairs gives them another way of screening candidates besides just the resume you submit for On-Campus Interviewing.
  • Regardless of the extent to which technology makes it easier and faster to share information between job seekers and employers, nothing replaces in-person contact for making an impression.
  • To be effective at a career fair, you need to be ready to make a good impression in person (just as you will be evaluating organizations by the way their representatives behave in person). To do this...

Before you go

  • Know which employers are attending.
    See the career fair list. You should find a list of the attending employers.
  • Do enough research to make "A" &"B" lists of employers to meet.
    Depending on the fair and how many employers interest you, you might not have time to speak with every employer (and every employer may not be offering what you seek). You don't need to study employers' financial reports to prepare, but you do need to have some sense of what the organization does, and if there is a fit between your skills and interests and the employer's needs. Also, if you're looking for more than one type of job — like technical sales or production management — you'll need to know which employers are looking for what so you can give each employer an appropriate resume....
  • Have plenty of copies of your resume ready.
    You might need to prepare more than one version. Always take paper resumes to a career/job fair. And if you're looking for more than one type of position, each being significantly different (like marketing or human resources), you may need two different versions of your resume, each tailored to support the different objective. This doesn't mean you need an individualized resume for each employer at a fair. It simply means when you speak to an employer and say you're interested in a certain kind of work, don't hand the employer a resume that has nothing to do with that kind of work. (Nothing wrong with an employer giving you a new idea on the spot — be flexible and respond appropriately.)
  • Be prepared that some employers cannot accept hard copy resumes and will ask you to apply online.
    This is to comply with federal regulations about the way employers keep data on applicants. February 2006 federal regulations had an impact on employers, online job hunters, and how status as a job candidate is determined. In order to comply with these regulations, many employers are requiring all job applicants to apply for jobs online on the employer's web site.
    This does not mean the employer is giving you the brush-off, and it does not mean the employer is wasting time by attending the fair and talking with you. The employer reps may well be taking note of candidates — you and others — in whom they are interested, but they have to follow certain procedures to comply with law.
  • Prepare a 20 to 30 second introduction to use with employers.
    You don't want to sound like a telephone solicitor reading a script; you do want to sound like you thought about why you're there. It might be something like, "Hello. I'm Daria Henderson, a junior in Communications with a minor in Marketing. I'm looking for an internship related to marketing for next summer. I read on your web site that (name of company) has an internship program in your corporate marketing department, and would really like to learn more about this program." Get the idea? Keep in mind that some employer representatives may take control of the conversation quickly and you may do more listening than speaking, but you do want to be prepared to be proactive rather than passive.
  • Know the dress code.
    Each fair has its own styles and traditions. Most are business professional and you can never err by being dressed this way. (Club/date attire is not appropriate).

At the career/job fair

  • Watch your manners and mannerisms — all those things your parents drilled into you when you were a child (and a few more). Stand up straight, don't hang your mouth open, don't fidget, do speak up and speak clearly, don't chew gum or smell like smoke. Have a good handshake and make good eye contact.
  • Don't be misled into thinking of the fair as a social event. Employers often send recently hired new graduates to career fairs. Don't fall into the mistake of interacting on a social level and forgetting that you are being judged on your potential to function in the work environment.
  • Carry a simple portfolio to keep your resumes organized and ready. Be ready to hand employers the appropriate resume. Be prepared for employers to give you literature and give-away items (pens, cups, t-shirts, etc.) — this is typical at fairs (sometimes they give you a bag to carry the give-aways). Bottom line is that you want to look like an organized person because that's an asset in an employee.
  • Have an open mind. You may have 12 employers on your target list to speak with. If you have extra time, or have to wait to speak with an employer, take advantage of the opportunity to chat with other employers who aren't busy. You might learn something to your advantage to your surprise. At the least, you'll be practicing initiating a conversation in a less formal business environment — and this is an essential skill in any work environment.
  • This is your opportunity to be evaluated on more than just your resume. In many aspects of the job search, your resume (and cover letter) is (are) all the employer sees to determine whether to interview you. At a fair, you have an opportunity to stand out in person in a way that you might not on your resume. Interpersonal skills, communication skills and work-place-appropriate social skills are critical. Many employers evaluate these skills heavily, because they want to hire people who can make a good impression on their clients and customers.
  • Handshakes are critical. Here’s an excellent article on this topic.

What if I'm not ready to look for a job?

Go to learn more about jobs, employers and industries. Employers are impressed when freshmen and sophomores introduce themselves at career fairs. Part of the point is to learn more about what employers have to offer. Fairs are rare opportunities to talk with lots of people and learn about jobs straight from the source.

You still need to do some research (see before you go, above) and have good interpersonal skills. The difference is that your goal is to get career information, not get a job (yet).

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