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How to Get the Most Out of College Career Fairs

Large group of women at job fair

Employers plan to hire 10.7 percent more graduates from the class of 2019 than the previous year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Even though the job report for college graduates is much better than it was ten years ago, getting a job post-college may not be as easy as skipping your 8am Friday class. 

To prepare for life after university, attend career fairs hosted by your college.  This gives you a chance to do the most challenging thing of all—get a foot in the door. At networking events, you get to meet with potential employers and recruiters, which puts a face to your name. What’s more, you get to learn about different companies and job openings that you may have otherwise not known about. 

Even as a junior, it’s never too early to get a jump start on the job process. Job fairs are also a chance to secure a summer internship before your senior year. NACE reports show that having an internship leads to more job offers upon graduation, as well as higher salaries. 

Use this guide to prepare for your career fair, and land a dream internship or job. 

Understand all the Details 

Career fairs have different stipulations and rules. Some might ask that you come prepared to interview, have a certain number of resumes on hand, or pre-schedule meetings. These factors can also depend on the school, companies in attendance, or even your specific major and intended industry. 

As a first step, make sure you properly register for the event. Then carefully read all of the available information on the career fair to get a good sense of the event, layout, schedule, and what’s expected from attendees. Remember that your college career center is there to help you, so if you have additional questions, reach out and ask. 

Plan Ahead to Optimize Your Time 

Career fairs can have hundreds of companies in attendance. Take time to research the participating employers, and map of the event to create a plan for which companies you want to connect with. Depending on your desired industry and position, you can easily eliminate many options and instead, focus on relevant businesses that make sense for your intended career path.

Don’t forget to browse the website and career pages for each company you’re interested in. Make sure the jobs and internships they offer are aligned with the experience you’d like. This is especially important if you have a long list of prospective companies. You can easily narrow them down by researching which ones seem to offer the best opportunities. 

With a targeted list of employers, you can make the most of your time at the career fair. No matter how much you prepare, however, keep an open mind. While well-known, larger companies might be high on your priority, meet with and chat with companies of different sizes to make sure you find the best fit.

Perfect Your Personal Story 

You ideally have a strong resume, but you also want to impress when you’re having short conversations with representatives and recruiters from various companies. Prepare a few interesting talking points to introduce yourself, like an “elevator pitch” for you as a candidate. 

Jill Tipograph, the co-founder of Early Stage Careers and Forbes contributor, offers advice on how to develop a personal story. She explains: 

“Identify three things that matter to you, whether they’re skills you bring or reasons you’re interested in a field. Then, recall one or two specific incidents or stories with each that you can easily recall. Take a step back and notice themes—connect the dots. Create an umbrella statement that pulls everything into one succinct story, making sure this relates to the needs of the employer. Practice telling your story.” 

If you get nervous talking to new people, practice with friends or in the mirror so you can deliver a strong and memorable story.

Put Your Best Foot Forward 

Wear a professional outfit that allows you to make a great first impression. Opt for clothes that are both comfortable and functional—you’ll be on your feet and walking around throughout the day. 

More importantly, get enough rest the night before and give yourself plenty of time to get ready and arrive at the career fair on time. These events can be long and grueling. Talking with so many people and trying to be on your A-game is exhausting. But if you come prepared—mentally and physically—you’ll be able to show everyone what you’re made of.

Have a Strong Follow Up Game 

Try to get business cards from each person you meet. If you have a great conversation, felt like you connected with someone, or were interested in the company or position, jot down quick notes on the business card. After the career fair, send an email thanking each person for taking the time to meet with you. 

Stand out from all the other generic thank you notes by including a specific anecdote or detail from your meeting. Don’t forget to connect with the people you meet on LinkedIn. Even if you aren’t interested in the company, it’s a valuable way to bolster your professional network. You never know when you may need or want to tap connections later.

Make the Most of Your College Career Fair

Career fairs offer a very unique and invaluable experience of meeting with several companies, face-to-face, all in one day. When you prepare ahead of time, focus on making genuine connections, and actively learning about available job openings, you’ll be one step closer to a great job or a valuable internship.

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