I’ve been on both sides of the table as a student and company representative at hundreds of college, internship and career fairs. I want to let you know, missing the career fair could mean a missed opportunity for making connections, networking and information gathering.
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 Are There to Meet You
Employers attend career fairs because they get to meet a variety of students from all academic backgrounds in one place. You should attend because it would otherwise be almost impossible for you to meet so many prospective employers from across the country at once. This is your shot to not just be another application on the internet, but to instead make an impression.
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.
Five Steps for Succes at a Career Fair
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. Say your name, class year and major for starters.
- 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.
Career Services is Your First Stop
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 missed 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. Download your free Internship Manual Toolkit to get on track and stay focused on getting your dream gig.
Making the right impression at an internship is super important. The wrong impression could seal your fate and future hopes of a job offer from that company. Even if you don’t think you want to work there after you graduate, you want to impress the right people so you can walk away with great references and maybe even a mentor.
Jump Right Into Your Work
You only have a 6-12 weeks at your internship to learn and do as much as you can. When you get a new assignment, ask questions to make sure you understand the project and deadlines. If you find yourself with down time, that is the perfect opportunity to ask for more work. If your manager doesn’t have additional work for you, ask if you can check with another person in the office. Jump in feet first and immerese yourself in your internship experience.
On another note, if you are flying through your assignments, make sure you are double cheking your work for accuracy. By doing good work and not just fast work, you will gain the trust of your manager and ideally be given tasks with more responsibility.
Dress for success
Seems simple enough right? Don’t be remembered as the badly dressed intern. Know the dress code for the office you work in. Ask human resources or your manager for a copy of the dress code.
If your wardrobe and your cash is limited, it is time to hit up the thrift store to score some deals. Young ladies and gentleman, black slacks or dress pants, a white button down dress shirt/blouse and a dark blazer or suit jacket can go very far. While you are at it, go ahead and look for a nice breifcase or laptop bag, time to ditch the bookbag.
Part of being well dressed also means taking the time to iron your clothes, shine your shoes and check your pantyhose for runs. Also, don’t go overboard with the aftershave or perfume.
Proper meeting etiquette
Being on time for meetings is important, but also arrive prepared. Never walk into a meeting without a pen and paper to take notes. Even if you never write anything down, take the pen and paper with you. Don’t try and take notes on your cell phone. Even if you have super will power and won’t be tempted to update your social media status or return a text duuring the slower part of the meeting, the other people don’t know what you are doing. You want to appear to be locked in and attentive. If you need your phone to keep track of time, go buy a watch. If you intend to keep your phone in your pocket or purse, turn it off during the meeting.
Practice your networking skills
Introduce yourself to everyone. Be friendly. Take your smile with you everywhere go. When you meet people, sometimes you will have the opportunity to go into your full-blown elevator pitch and sometimes not – don’t force it. If you are in the coffee line and you notice a person wearing a hat of a sports team you like, make a comment about the team, or if you are in the elevator and you love the shoes someone is wearing, tell them you love their shoes and strike up a conversation. During the course of the conversation, tell them your name and what department you are interning in. Don’t be discouraged if it takes some practice to get over your nerves.
As an intern you are there to contribute, learn and grow. No one is perfect. There will be times when you get negative feedback on a project. Don’t take it to heart as criticism but embrace it as a learning opportunity. Ask questions so that you can learn from your mistakes and what you can do better the next time.
Jumping into your internship with positive energy and enthusiasm will get you noticed. Making the right and lasting impression could mean that when there is a job opening, you are the one to get the call.
Get a complete break down on how to be a rock star intern in my book, The Internship Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Internship of Your Dreams.
Whether you are on your first internship or your fifth, there are some things you want to do and other things you don’t want to do to leave a lasting impression.
This quick list identifies seven ways you can make a bad impression. You want to leave your internship with a great recommendation, a mentor and a positive performance that got you noticed for the right things. So, do the opposite of these seven examples and you will be a stand out star.
1. The badly dressed intern
Dress for success, simple enough right. Check with your manager and ask what the dress code is for the office. Is it business casual or does everyone wear jeans and sneakers? When in doubt, dress professionally on your first day. You would much rather be remembered as the intern who showed up in a suit on the first day, than the intern who was grossly underdressed in shorts and sandals. Part of being well dressed also means taking the time to do simple things like ironing your clothes, shining your shoes and checking your pantyhose for runs. Also, don’t go overboard with the aftershave or perfume.
2. The perpetually late intern
Be on time or better yet, be 15 minutes early. If you are interning in a new city and you aren’t too familiar with traffic patterns or the public transportation system, then you should do a test run. A few days before you start, preferably during rush hour, just take the route you plan to take on your first day to make sure you know where you are going. You will feel more confident in planning your morning when you know how long it takes to get to work.
Over the course of the summer, occasionally things happen and you may get delayed, if so call your manager as soon as possible to explain the situation. Don’t become the chronically late intern because you can’t figure out a better route to work or you aren’t getting enough sleep and are failing to wake up on time.
3. The rude/mean intern
Introduce yourself to everyone. Be friendly. Take your smile with you everywhere go. When you meet people, sometimes you will have the opportunity to go into your full-blown elevator pitch and sometimes not – don’t force it. If you are in the cafeteria line and you notice a person wearing a hat of a sports team you like, make a comment about the team, or if you are in the elevator and you love the shoes someone is wearing, tell them you love their shoes and strike up a conversation. During the course of the conversation, tell them your name and what department you are interning in. Networking is about making connections. When the connection happens in a more natural way it can be less intimidating for you.
4. The social butterfly
While you want to take advantage of the opportunity to network, conduct informational interviews and be genuinely friendly you have to strike a balance. If your work is suffering, you are never at your desk when someone needs you or you spend the first 30 minutes of each work day chatting with everyone, then you need to pull back a little. Be friendly but respect everyone else’s time and be careful to not get pulled into office gossip and politics. Make an effort to attend at least a few company events and networking functions. Those activities can provide the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the people at the company you may otherwise not get the chance to meet.
5. The social media/cell phone addict
Never take your cell phone into a meeting. When you are at your desk don’t constantly text/tweet/post on your phone or computer. If you need to check the time, buy a watch. Don’t use your phone as an excuse to take notes, grab a pen and notepad for that. If you forget your phone is in your pocket and you find yourself in a meeting, just turn the ringer or the phone off. Always checking your phone makes you appear distracted and not tuned into what is happening in the meeting.
6. The fast but inefficient intern
Not everything is a race. When you are given an assignment, ask for direction in terms of when your supervisor would like the project to be completed. Don’t rush through everything trying to show how fast you are only to make a bunch of mistakes. Attention to detail is an impressive and desired quality that employers like to see. It can also get to be annoying for your manager who has to take the time to go back and correct your mistakes. Be fast but be careful. You will gain the trust of your manager sooner and ideally be given tasks with more responsibility by demonstrating care and pride in your work.
7. The know it all
Remain teachable. As an intern you are there to contribute, learn and grow. No one is perfect. There will be times when you get negative feedback on a project. Don’t take it to heart as criticism but embrace it as a learning opportunity. Ask questions so that you can learn from your mistakes and what you can do better the next time.
Make the most of your internship this summer. Internships are a great opportunity to learn about a profession and just as importantly, learn more about yourself. Make a lasting impression for the right reasons by dressing for success, being on time, being friendly but not overly social, putting down your cell phone, paying attention to detail and remaining teachable.
Get a complete break down on how to be a rock start intern in The Internship Manual: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Internship of Your Dreams.