After well over a decade in higher education I’ve participated in hundreds of college, internship, graduate school, and career fairs. It
has been a pretty interesting experience that has taken me across the country to some cool locations. Many college students fail to take advantage of the great opportunity these events present to meet future employers. As a college student, no matter if your school calls it a Career/Internship Fair or a Graduate School/Career Fair, you should make it your business to be there.
Employers attend fairs because they get to meet a variety of students from all academic backgrounds in one place and make a personal connection. You should attend because it would otherwise be almost impossible for you to meet so many prospective employers from across the country at once. If you perform well and understand the value in making a good impression at a career fair, it can open up opportunities that are hard to come by when you are just another application coming in from over the internet.
Beyond the obvious reasons of looking for an internship or a job, also consider attending a career fair as a chance to learn about companies and professions that you may not have previously considered, get advice from company recruiters on how to stand out, and to network.
So what can you do if you have a career fair coming up soon on your campus? Here are five simple steps for a successful career fair experience.
- When you approach a company representative – smile. A smile goes a long way. By just being pleasant, smiling, and friendly you are already starting off on the right foot.
- Offer a firm handshake. Don’t just stand there and stare at the information on the table. Make eye contact and extend your hand for a handshake. Introduce yourself.
- Dress appropriately. As boring as it may sound, dust off the suit and tie and shine those shoes. Most university career centers can give you detailed guidance on appropriate business attire for the career fair.
- Do your research on the companies in attendance a few days before the fair. You will be able to create a target list of companies that you want to visit first. Target lists aren’t just about hitting up the most popular companies; research is about finding companies that fit with your career or internship goals. Doing research will also help you create good questions to ask the representatives.
- In addition to having prepared questions for your target companies, also prepare 2-4 general questions you can ask any representative.
First things first, stop by your college career center and find out when the next event will be. While I am sure you can find that information much quicker online, if you have never visited career services then this is your motivation to go find the office. While you are there, make an appointment to work with a career counselor or advisor to get your resume reviewed. You will need a well-crafted resume when talking to the reps from the companies at the fair. If you missed the fall fair, ask if there will be a spring event. If miss them both, then look for some public job fairs to attend to put your new skills into action. When I was in college, college fair connections led to a paid internship and a full-time job offer for me. If you know how to “work” the fair, it can be a game-changer for your internship and/or job search.
Now is the time to start looking for your summer internship. Don’t get distracted and put off your search until the spring when some of the best opportunities might be gone. Start by getting organized and creating a plan of attack. Get organized now by downloading for free, Internship Manual Toolkit to get on track and stay focused on getting your dream gig.