How to Stand Out at a Career Fair
Could you be doing more to land your dream job?
With countless peers competing for positions at the same companies, many college graduates seeking employment opportunities at career fairs feel overwhelmed and underprepared. In a fiercely competitive job market, standing out from the crowd is imperative to getting your foot in the door with any company.
What is the goal of a career fair? If you said, "to get a job," that is your first mistake. Shift your focus to having genuine connections and making a lasting impression. The first step is preparation, to set yourself apart from a sea of applicants.
Freshen up your resume. Ensure your name, graduation date, GPA, and work experience are current. Assume that they will ask you about any piece of your resume, so be honest with your skills and experience. Recruiters look at hundreds of resumes per career fair so play around with formatting, paper color, fonts, and layouts; nothing too crazy though!
Look the part. Wear an outfit that is comfortable and professional. If you feel comfortable, you will be more confident.
Do your research. Look at what companies are attending the fair, find the companies that interest you, visit their website, check out their LinkedIn, and see what they have published lately. Pick your top five to set your sights on.
Know what you want. To help evaluate companies on the fly, brainstorm different aspects of a position, including:
What type of work are you open to doing?
What is your dream job, and what types of opportunities can help you get there?
Where would you like to live? Would you prefer to work remotely?
Which benefits are important to you? What does their full compensation package look like?
Sell yourself. A 30-second elevator pitch is a handy tool to have in your pocket, as a quick way to explain who you are, your expertise, and your goals.
"Hello! My name is Alex and I'm graduating with a Computer Science and Psychology degree with honors. I'm looking for a position that plays into my strengths as a programmer and continually challenges me with room for growth. My specialties include programming and logic, with a unique set of communication skills from my psychology background."
Get a good night's sleep! Every big day always starts the night before. You want to be well-rested and optimistic as you head out the door (or into a virtual zoom).
Now is your time to shine. Whether in person or virtual, showing up with confidence is the second step. Be prepared to talk and, more importantly, listen. Register ahead of time and be prompt with your arrival. Showing up early will allow you to get to important booths before the crowds. There will be lines.
Are you exploring virtually? If you are attending a virtual fair, pre-register for sessions with your ideal companies. Turn on your camera! It would be very hard for an employer to get to know you without seeing you. Clean up the area behind you visible on the camera to not distract the recruiter. Put that teddy bear away. Another option if you’re not comfortable interviewing in your home is to do the virtual fair from the library or a safe space with wi-fi.
Small talk is not for everyone. If you come prepared with questions, you can avoid small talk entirely. The goal is to keep a friendly yet professional conversation going. Some good questions to ask are:
What are the expectations of the role?
What does the ideal candidate look like?
What does a typical day in [insert desired job title] role look like?
What types of mentorships are available?
How is growth measured and encouraged for this role?
Be friendly! For a recruiter, candidates being kind, prepared, and curious makes recruiting a lot more enjoyable. When you meet a recruiter for the first time, shake their hand, make eye contact, and smile. As you give your elevator pitch, remain calm and confident. Have a copy of your resume handy. Afterward, ask for a way to keep in touch and always thank them for their time.
Stay open. Go exploring beyond your top five. Walk up to any booth and learn what they have to offer. You never know what will be a good fit for you. The more practice you get talking to companies, even getting rejected, the better you will be moving forward. After applying to 50+ companies, I got four interviews and took a job with a company I had never heard of, and it turned out to be a great fit. Six years later, I am still with this company and am grateful for the experience and growth it has given me.
Now that you have made a great first impression, you want to keep your name in the conversation. Instead of waiting to hear back, take initiative and reach out yourself. Whether it is an email to a recruiter or directly applying online for the position, it is up to you to make that first move.
All companies recruit differently, so there is no formula for perfect interaction. Above all, be yourself because there is no one like you. Putting your best self out there takes practice, but with the right tools and enough effort, landing your dream job is a cinch.