As we are preparing in the Graduate Career Center for our fall Career Expo, it is important for students and alumni planning to attend our expo or any career fair to prepare in advance to maximize their time at the end. Career fairs can be a valuable source of contacts but to be successful, the job seeker must prepare thoroughly in advance.
Research the Companies
Do your homework in advance. Identify the companies participating and see if they align with your target companies, industries or positions. If yes, research each company you plan to visit. Learn what they do, who their competitors are, what recent press coverage they have had, etc. Check their online postings to see if there are specific jobs which may interest you. Know something about the companies you hope to meet and have specific, thoughtful questions prepared for each one. Obviously if there are no companies of interest, don’t waste your time but do some research before jumping to that conclusion. You should never ask a company “what do you do” at a career fair. They expect that you have done your homework in advance.
Prepare Your Materials
Have multiple clean copies of your resume with you. Also have business cards available. Be prepared to share them when asked. You also want to be sure to have a notepad so you can jot down appropriate notes after each conversation. Have a calendar available in case you are asked to schedule a follow-up interview. Use one pocket for your own business cards and a separate pocket for those you collect. You certainly don’t want to share the wrong cards!
Put your Best Foot Forward
Dress as if it were an interview because it could be. You are certainly making a first impression on the company representative so you want to appear professional. Some companies have the flexibility to do on the spot interviews if they are impressed so you want to be ready. When it is your turn to meet the representative, make eye contact, shake hands confidently and introduce yourself briefly.
It’s about the Relationships
This is about making connections. You can apply online all day and there is no guarantee that a human ever actually looks at your resume. At the career expo, you are meeting a representative from the company. They have committed their time and resources because they want to meet our students and alumni. Let them know you are interested. Demonstrate your interest by being well prepared and asking insightful questions. Even if they don’t immediately have the right job for you, if you make a positive impression they could bring your resume back to the office and share it with an appropriate hiring manager. Make a strong connection. Do not ignore contacts who may work in a different functional area that what you are interested in. They can and will share resumes and their feedback with their colleagues when they return to the office.
For the people you had conversations with at the expo, send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours thanking them for their time and reinforcing your interest. Few people will do this so it helps you stand out in a very positive way. If they don’t have a card, jot down their name and company before moving on to the next table. Saying thank you makes a very positive impression.
If you are going to take the time to attend a career event, invest the time in your preparation so you can maximize the benefits.