8/3/17

3 Rules & 10 Tips to Make You Irresistible at a Career Fair

To succeed at a career fair, you need to stand out in students who are all receiving the same education and being taught the same things to say and do at a career fair. Easy enough, right? Wrong. You need to rig the game in your favor.


Career fairs suck. I've participated in them both as a student/prospective employee and as a recruiter/prospective employer. I never particularly enjoyed them as a student, and they don't get a whole lot easier as a recruiter.

This career speed dating process, although unfortunately archaic, seems to be here to stay. And since your career may depend on your ability to make a good impression at career fairs, you might as well put in the effort to get good at them. Just a little bit of effort can go a long way to separate yourself from the other hundreds or thousands of people battling for a second of that recruiter's time and a chance to shine in the spotlight.

Before I get into the specific tips and strategies, let's set a few fundamental ground rules. These may seem obvious, but in my role as a recruiter for the past 2 years, I've seen more people break these rules than follow them. Those who don't follow these rules have a tough time holding my attention for more than just a few seconds.

Rule #1: Be Confident

You've worked hard to get to this point where you're ready to go out and get a job. Be proud of your successes and act like you deserve to be here. Stand up straight, give a firm handshake, look the recruiter in the eye, and speak clearly. It's important to not go over the top into cockiness, but frankly I'd rather talk to some conceited, cocky asshole than someone who doesn't even initiate the conversation with me and looks like they're going to piss their pants the second I ask an unscripted question.

Remember that the companies want you just as badly as you want them! Recruiters take a lot of pride in hiring a successful intern or employee, so the nerves tend to kick in at times on their side of the table too. This was something that I didn't completely realize prior to my time as a recruiter. The playing field is more level than you think. So act like you're a competent individual who deserves to be there and not Oliver Twist asking for more soup.

Rule #2: Stay Positive

Believe it or not, sometimes recruiters are not good at their jobs. A lot of times, the recruiters at career fairs are not trained HR professionals and have no idea what they're doing. They might try intimidation tactics or act disinterested in your conversation just to throw you off your game.

Those people are not worth your time. Stay confident, try to make the conversation as pleasant as possible, end it amicably, and move on. There are most likely a hundred or so other companies waiting to talk to you, and those other companies are clearly a better fit than the last one who gave you a bad experience. If you have a bad or awkward experience, step out of the room for a second, get a glass of water, and get back to it. So much of the career fair and recruiting process is random dumb luck on both sides, so just understand it's not always going to work out. You just need to keep working on making it work out once.

Rule #3: Be Persistent

Cast a wide net. Go to as many career fairs as you can and talk to as many recruiters as you can. Practice makes perfect, so the more often you put yourself in these unavoidably awkward situations, the better you will perform. The more exposure you force yourself into, the more comfortable you will become, and the higher your chances of success will be.

Tips for a Successful Career Fair

Without further adieu, I present  to you my tips for standing out and giving yourself the best chance at a successful career fair. Following these tips is not a fool-proof method that guarantees success. But if you are confident, positive, and persistent while following these tips, I guarantee your chances of success will much higher than your average Suzie Student running around blindly hoping to fall ass backwards into a job.

Phase 1: Pre-Career Far

1. Polish that resume

Chances are you haven't taken a look at that resume since the last career fair, and you hopefully have some wonderful accomplishments, experience, or involvement to add. Your resume needs to be as impressive as possible and mistake free. A mistake on a resume is a good way to send a message to recruiters that you don't really give a shit.

2. Research companies

Take a look at the list of companies who will be in attendance. Identify no less than 3 companies (preferably more like 5-10) who are looking for someone with your qualifications and who you would like to work for. Do your research on them to figure out what exactly they do, what someone in the position you're trying to secure an interview for might do, and any recent news or hot topics about their company and/or industry. You don't need to be an expert, but a few company-specific talking points or questions for your conversation can impress recruiters.

This seems to be overlooked by many students. One of the first questions I tend to ask students is "Why do you want to work for Marathon?" Students who are prepared to talk about our ranking as Forbes' best employer or the latest acquisition we announced tend to impress me and give themselves a chance to move on to an interview. Believe it or not, the student who once told me "I think Marathon has really good quality gas that helps cars run better" did not make it to my next question.

Phase 2: At Career Fair

1. Get there early

Chances are the recruiters are going to give you more of their time at the beginning of the career fair before they get a line of people waiting to talk to them and before they've heard the same things from a hundred students. Be one of the first people your target companies talk to. 

2. Seek out top targets first

Talk to your preferred companies right when you get there. If you want to get warmed up a little, start with your third or so option, but make sure it's a company you've researched. Get to those top option companies as quickly as you can.

3. The first impression: introduce yourself, give a firm handshake, and make eye contact

Nothing starts a conversation off worse than a sloppy handshake or having to initiate the conversation myself as the recruiter. One time I was talking to a student who kept looking behind him which made our conversation really awkward (and short).

4. Have plenty of resumes!

If the recruiter doesn't have your resume, they will not remember you. This should go without saying, but I've been in more than one situation where a student did not have a resume to give me.

5. Cast a wide net

You don't know everything about every company, so don't skip out on a company just because you haven't heard of them before. Stepping out for a minute to do a quick search on the company would probably help you have a more productive conversation, but don't be afraid to walk up cold. As long as you've researched and talked to your top targets, give it a shot. You never know what kind of opportunities might come up.

6. Don't be afraid to ask for contact information

If your conversation goes well, ask for a business card or contact information. Following up with that person the next day with a follow-up thank you for the conversation and information they provided to you could go a long way. Based on our recruiting practices, I've never actually followed up with a student who emails me, but it certainly doesn't hurt them. I do generally at least forward the emails on to HR.

7. Start strong but be brief

A short elevator pitch is great. But don't go on and on for a minute straight about all of your skills and strengths and how you'll be a great fit for that company. Introduce yourself, tell the recruiter your year and major, talk briefly about some relevant experience working and/or in student organizations, and tell them what made you want to talk to them or why you think that working for their company would be a great opportunity for you. Just don't ramble or go through your entire resume before the recruiter has a chance to open his or her mouth. Trust me, they're not listening after the first 10 seconds anyway. . . or maybe that's just me.

8. Display your emotion and personality

Almost everyone at the career fair meets the criteria to work for most of the companies there. You need to set yourself out by being you! You were excited to talk to a particular company for some particular reason. Tell them that and actually act excited! Don't jump up and down and scream-- that scares people. Just genuinely be yourself and let your personality shine through. If you're not comfortable enough to do that, then you need to practice. You're going to be nervous, so just being yourself is not going to come naturally. Talk to as many companies as it takes for you to finally become comfortable enough to be yourself.

Start Kicking Ass!

You are an outstanding individual, and any company would be lucky to have you working for them. Believe in yourself, follow our rules and tips, and get out there and blow those recruiters away! Tell 'em Smart Money Seed sent ya!

What Can You Share?

For those of you who have experience at career fairs, what tips or tricks have you learned or used that would be helpful to share with the rest of the Smart Money Squad? Let us know in the comments!

 






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