Navigating College Career Fairs

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Navigating College Career Fairs

On a college campus, herds of students parading down the street in suits and heels usually mean one thing: College Career Fair Season. This fall, I found myself perusing company booths for the first time – speaking with recruiters and weighing my summer internship options. Once junior year hits, eligibility for most internships skyrocket, and I was ready to take full advantage of my upperclassmen status. Navigating a college career fair for the first time can be a daunting task. The crowds of students, the competitiveness, and the wide range of options are intimidating.

Come prepared your school’s career fair with these four simple tips:

1. Research visiting companies beforehand: Typically schools provide a list of visiting companies for each day of a college career fair. For example, if a university has a 3-day long fair, some companies may only be visiting for one or two of the days. Before you go, take a look at the daily schedule and identify the companies that most interest you. Sometimes the listed companies provide details on the majors or skills that they are looking for in an intern or employee. Before considering a visit to their booth, make sure your credentials meet their requirements, and that you research basic information on their company (i.e. mission statement, purpose, etc.).

2. Have an elevator speech ready: An elevator speech is a short summary people use to define who they are, and outline their experiences and goals. When making introductions at a career fair, students may often start off with a firm handshake followed by their prepared thirty-second elevator speech. The elevator speech is essentially a personal pitch to the employer to spark their interest and begin the conversation on whether or not the student and company’s goals align. Making my first introductions at a company booth, I started off with my name, study track and a short list of my past-related experiences. Be aware that not all of your accomplishments may directly relate to a certain business, so be prepared to modify your elevator speech based on the business type.

3. Take notes on names and conversation topics: Keep a folder and pen with you at all times. Minimally, in your folder you should have multiple (15-20) copies of your resume, scratch paper, a career fair map and a list of companies you plan to visit. After your conversation with recruiters, take note of their name, title and main talking points. Depending on the recruiter, some conversations can be more personal than others, and you may discuss your likes and interests in school, how your classes are going, etc. Taking note of key talking points will be useful in follow-up conversations.

4. Follow up! Most professional industries value persistence and proactivity. Do not wait more than two days to follow up in conversation with the recruiters your spoke with. Get their business cards, find them in LinkedIn and continue the conversation by asking for next steps in the application process. Do not expect employers to reach out to you. They are speaking to hundreds of students, so it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. When contacting, bring up talking points from your first conversation to spark their memory. 

Guest post by Campus Ambassador Hanna Handler at University of Illinois.