Career Fairs-Don’t Just Show Up (Part 3)

The Night Before

The career fair is tomorrow and you’ve done a lot of work, but here are a couple more recommendations to help you be fully prepared.

Grab a friend to take out for coffee and have him double check your resume. Better to find any typos today than for a recruiter to spot them tomorrow.

While you’re grabbing that coffee take a few minutes to rehearse your 30 second commercial. As an aspiring author, I’ve been in your shoes recently when attending writers’ conferences. The first question every other writer has upon introduction is, “So what do you write?” So I rehearsed the pitch for my novel until I could say it in my sleep! By the time I sat down in front of editors and agents to “sell” my manuscript, my jitters were almost a distant memory.

Next, lay out your outfit. Or two. Because you might discover that sharp gray suit needs to go to the dry cleaner or, as soon as ladies try to pull on a pair of tights, they’ll get a run. Make sure you have a backup plan so you don’t have to show up at the fair in a borrowed outfit. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not pretty.

The early bird gets the worm. It might be cliché, but it’s very true of a career fair. Many employers leave about 30 minutes (and some even sooner) before the fair ends. So if you show up later, you’ll miss out. And even if we don’t leave early, having spoken to 50, 75 or 100 plus students we’re fried by the end of the day. When representatives are fresh you’ll probably get far more information than those bullet points they’re sharing at the end of a four hour fair.

If it’s 6:05 pm and the fair ended at 6:00 pm, use a little discernment. A recruiter who is all packed up might share some quick highlights but don’t stick around for twenty minutes with tons of questions. Don’t ask for any handouts at this point. He’s already packed up. Even if you have a good reason, you were late, plain and simple. Ask if you can get in touch and let him be on his way. You want to be remembered, but not as the clueless wonder.

The Day Of                                                                                                       

Today is the day. All of your preparation is going to pay off. It’s okay to catch a ride to the fair with friends but once you get there check over your written plan and go work the room. This isn’t a group effort. Walking around with a gaggle of buddies sends the message that you are a follower, not a leader, and you can’t make your own decisions. If your friend is interested in nursing and you’re interested in engineering, you’ll need to speak to very different companies. So shake ‘em and go your separate ways. Later on you can catch up and discuss the opportunities you discovered.

Talking to the Recruiter

I promise you, we don’t bite. And you’ve been following this cool blog, so you have plenty to talk about. 🙂 Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and be enthusiastic. We’ve all had that experience where we’ve been in the middle of a story with someone and that person looks away, or looks beyond us to something more interesting. Not a good move at a career fair. If you build rapport with a recruiter and she doesn’t have any careers that are a fit for you, she still might point you in the direction of some opportunities at other companies (we recruiters do talk to one another). But if you’re rude, good luck.

Be mindful of time and personal space. Even if you’re having a great conversation, know when it’s time to say thank you, shake hands and move on. If you think the company is great, there’s probably a line of other people behind you who feel the same way. Let them have their time with the recruiter. On another note, don’t stand so close I’ll want to call for security, but don’t stand so far away I have to beckon you closer. That will make me think you’re timid. If you’re afraid of me, how will you be able to handle the occasional tough customer? An arm’s length away is perfect.

Don’t be offended if the recruiter doesn’t take your resume. This is becoming more and more common. Don’t take it personally; it’s not you. Every company has its own application procedure, which is typically to apply on line and upload the resume. So why have a resume? Because having one says something about your professionalism. Plus, the recruiter might look it over even if he doesn’t keep it.

Ask Good Questions

Remember, you want to have a conversation with the recruiter so be prepared to ask some questions. Good ones. If the representative works for Midwest IT Solutions, please don’t ask, “So what does Midwest IT Solutions do?”

Well…provide IT solutions. (It happens.)

You can ask if they have any opportunities in sales, marketing, HR, accounting, etc. The name doesn’t say it all so don’t assume a company won’t be interested in someone with your major.

Some other good questions might include the following (but only ask if you’re truly interested):

Can you tell me more about your hiring process? This way you’ll know how to apply, when you might hear back from the hiring representative and how many interviews to expect.

Is there an opportunity for, or mandatory, relocation? If you are married to the town you live in and the company plans to send you to parts unknown after a couple of years, it’s probably not the company for you.

What are you looking for in an ideal candidate? The recruiter could describe you perfectly. Or not.

What are the daily responsibilities for the position? The position could be a desk job and you need to be on your feet all day. The job requires creativity and you’re more analytical. Great to know before you apply.

Will you be conducting on campus interviews? If so, find out how to sign up. If it’s three weeks away, however, apply right away so perhaps you can interview earlier.

What kind of training do you provide? Maybe the last company you worked for used the ‘sink or swim’ method and you discovered you want a very specific training plan.

Are there opportunities for advancement? If you want to be a director someday and there are only 20 people in the company, it might be difficult for you to achieve that goal.

More Do’s and Don’ts

Do not ask about salary. It’s obvious you’re going to go with the highest bidder and can’t possibly be sincerely interested in our company which makes us question how long you’ll stick around if hired.

Don’t be a collector. Many people hear there’s a career fair and show up, grab a bag and begin shopping. This is not a trade show, and it’s not a grocery store. He who grabs the most toys does not win. Don’t be mistaken for one of these people. There’s nothing wrong with accepting a stress ball, ink pen or candy but go back and get those things at the end of the fair, after you’ve connected with all the employers of interest. You don’t want to be the guy with so many freebies you’re dropping them in the aisles and juggling all your goodies while trying to get to your resume.

Don’t congregate in front of a booth with your friends. We recruiters want to talk to people but you and your buddies are blocking our table! Take personal conversations out of the high traffic areas.

Do take a business card. You’ll want to know how to get in touch with the recruiter and you don’t want to call Meghan, Megan or Sean, Shaun. Or Shawn. 🙂

Do network with other attendees and fair organizers. Your friends or the staff from career services might be able to tell you about a company you’ve overlooked that is offering your dream job.

Do make one last sweep at the end of the fair. This is a great time to thank the recruiter one more time and assure him you’re going to send in your application. Whenever possible, apply the same day while you’re still fresh in his mind.

Do note how to apply. If you’ve been told to apply online, don’t send an email to the recruiter asking how to apply. You’ll lose big ‘attention to detail’ points.

After The Fair

This is a great time to shoot the representative a note to reiterate your skills and interest. Send this note after you’ve applied to make them aware that you’ve followed instructions. You might even bring up something you talked about to remind them who you are. I spoke with a girl at a career fair years ago who is also almost six feet tall. Our discussion revolved around what a challenge it is to find pants that are long enough. When she mentioned that conversation in her follow up email I immediately knew who she was.

Make sure you follow proper phone etiquette and grammar. As I’ve mentioned before, all correspondence counts, so if your email is full of typos and improper grammar it could affect whether you move forward in the interview process. You should be putting your best foot forward in every interaction with the company, so while you might feel this is unfair, know that when you’re up against the candidate who didn’t have the Justin Beiber ringtone, he’s the one that’s going to walk away with the job.

There it is, tips on what you need to do before, during and after a career fair to help you get into the interview. May you land your dream job soon.



Great post from career avoidance. Dream. Do. Live.

Career Fairs-Don’t Just Show Up, Part 2

Before The Fair (continued)

First Impressions

You’ve prepared your resume, you’ve done your homework and you’re looking sharp in your conservative, well-fitting suit. You’re all set, right? Well, not yet. We still haven’t discussed some key points. For instance, how should you approach the recruiter?

Um…you just walk right up to him, right?

Not quite. Many a candidate does just that then shoves a resume at us and waits.


Here’s a much better way.

Remember, we haven’t even arrived at the fair yet. This is still prep time. First, you should have a clear career focus so you can have a discussion with the recruiter. I don’t mean ‘find a job’. I mean, what is your field of interest or professional goal? For instance:

“I’m looking for an entry-level event planning opportunity.”

Contrary to what all of our mothers told us we cannot do everything. Not without training anyway. The phrases “I can do anything” “I’m open” or “I just want to get my foot in the door” indicate you have no idea what you’d like to do. This might not seem like a big deal, but companies can’t afford to invest their training dollars in someone who is more than likely going to quit the minute they realize they don’t like the job.

If you’re uncertain about your long-term goal like I was when seeking my first job, as I’ve mentioned before, for the company’s sake as well as your own, at the very least try to find a job where you can utilize the skills you’ve learned or responsibilities you’ve had in the past that you enjoyed the most. Then the likelihood that you’ll be able to build a lasting career increases drastically. If you’ve enjoyed customer service and solving problems in the past, say so.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping people, finding solutions and thinking strategically. Do you have any opportunities where those skills could be beneficial?”

Still stumped? Think about what you did naturally as a kid or what you can do for hours now and not even notice the whole day has passed. Writing, drawing, sports, building, working with your hands, etc. Perhaps you’ve always been great with money and budgeting and what comes so naturally to you could be a huge asset to the banking or financial industries. These God-given talents and gifts that no one had to teach you could open the door to many a possibility. Maybe the kid who played every sport known to man should work in sports management. The teen who loved to help her mom pick out new color schemes for the house might be a great interior designer. And the girl who loved to shop might find her home in merchandising.

After the recruiter knows what kind of career interests you she might have some questions about your resume, so be prepared to participate in a conversation, not just listen.

  • Tell me about some of your responsibilities at Marc’s Car Wash.
  • What made you decide to choose history as your major?
  • I noticed there was a job gap between your sales position at Wireless Widgets and your serving job at Java the Hut. Was there a reason for that?
  • Why did you leave your job at the flower shop?


30 Second Elevator Speech

Much of what we’ve discussed will fit nicely into your 30 Second Elevator Speech aka 30 Second Commercial aka 30 Second Elevator Pitch. Whether you deliver it in an actual elevator, a networking event, a dinner party, an interview or the job fair, the intent is the same. Take a short amount of time to tell someone who has something you want (job, book deal, endorsement, introduction) the best things you have to offer so they will be compelled to give or help you get that something.

Here’s what a 30 Second Pitch should consist of for an undergrad at a career fair:

Name, major & year

My name is David Smith. I’ll be receiving my Bachelor’s degree in engineering this spring.

What makes you unique

Trust me, there is something, and whatever it is can help the recruiter remember you among the sea of faces we’ll encounter throughout the day.

I paid for 100% of my education; I played a sport while working 25 hours a week; I finished school in 3 ½ years; I ran a marathon; I speak 6 languages

How can you benefit the employer

If you’ve done the research discussed in the previous blog you might come across some areas of opportunity.

I noticed your company is very involved in community outreach. I was Vice President of my fraternity and that was part of our mission as well. Over the past two years I’ve built relationships with several local non-profits who would love to partner with a corporation.

How can you help solve problems

This is a matter of drawing on your accomplishments and telling how they can transfer to the job.

As captain of the football team I had to keep my teammates on task, working together toward a common goal and, as a result, we went to two bowl games where we won both times.  As a leader in your organization I would bring that same motivation to my team to reach company goals.

Employment aim

This is the place to incorporate the information we discussed earlier.

“I’d like to use my marketing degree in a research role.”

Company insight/why you’re interested in the company

You want to feel special when you’re selected over all other candidates. We want to know we’re special too! Take some time to learn about the companies you’ll be talking to before the fair (see my previous blog).

These components don’t have to be delivered in this order. In fact, you don’t even have to use all of them. The pitch is meant to get the conversation going with the recruiter. So start with your name, major and anticipated graduation date and your employment aim. Allow the recruiter to respond then filter in the other pieces as needed. The key is to be ready.

You should be feeling pretty confident by now. Just a few more tips next time and you’ll work that fair like a pro.

Career Fairs-Don’t Just Show Up

What? There’s a career fair? Today? If you roll into the event disheveled and in a panic, it probably won’t fare well for you (no pun intended). Trust me, if you’re a student at a college or university there is going to be a career fair (most likely two—fall and winter) so check out the school’s website for the date and then get ready.

Before The Fair

Do Your Homework

If you prepare ahead of time you can walk in with confidence and make a great first impression. The first step is to get the list of attendees from career services or whoever is hosting the event. Next, check the companies out to see which ones appeal to you and if they are offering the position(s) you’re seeking.

There are a few ways to do this. The most obvious is to visit their website. What’s the mission statement? Company values? Community involvement? Awards? Have there been any lay-offs lately? You might also visit websites like where existing and former employees share pros and cons and salary information.

As I mention in a previous blog, though, take what you learn with a grain of salt. Just because someone else didn’t enjoy a position doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it and vice versa. I for instance really loved my job at a sub shop. When I was 15. I wouldn’t enjoy coming home smelling of onions and fry grease now. Similarly, one of my colleagues who is an accountant considers conducting interviews pure torture. And the thought of crunching numbers all day makes me sleepy. Seems like we’re both in the right roles.

Once you’ve done your research determine how well the information you obtained and the job descriptions measure up against what you’re seeking in a company and make a prioritized list of those that most interest you. You’ll find that some booths at the fair will have a line a mile long the entire time of the fair, so save that one for last so you don’t miss out on the others on your list.

Prepare Your Resume

One word of caution, if you ask 10 recruiters for their opinion about resumes you’ll get 10 different answers, so try to stick with a standard format. I, for one, prefer that a resume has a clear objective. And I don’t mean:

To obtain a career with Company X.

I want to know what kind of career you’re seeking or what skills you’d like to put to use in your career. More like:

To utilize my creativity, sales and leadership skills in a marketing role to contribute to the success of a company

Make sure you remain professional, even with your email address. Your name works just fine. No reason to use this as an opportunity to broadcast your opinions about yourself: Trust me, we recruiters have seen it. Visit Career Services to get help with your initial layout. After that, sign up for a resume critique with an employer. Take a portfolio with you to the fair to keep your resumes neat and at your fingertips.

Finally, make sure your outfit is ready. If you get invited to an interview, business casual attire might be an option depending on the company, but for the fair the dress code is business professional. Period.

Before you panic, professional does not have to equal expensive. Clean, pressed and presentable—meaning, a good fit and in style—are all that’s necessary to fit the bill. Neutral and conservative are key. Lean toward dark suits with white or light colored shirts or blouses. For men, classic patterned ties.  Polished shoes for everyone! Women should opt for simple pumps versus stacked, trendy styled shoes or sandals. Remember you’ll be walking for an hour or more so choose something that is comfortable. If you’re stressing over your outfit it will take your focus off the interaction with the recruiters.

So far so good. Next time I’ll have even more tips to help you overcome your jitters and make a great first impression.

Career Fairs-Why Bother?

What’s the point?

February is upon us and that means it’s Career Fair Season at universities across the land. I know what you’re thinking—why bother? Recruiters are just going to tell me to go to their website anyway.

I get it. You’d rather sit in your dorm or apartment and eat cookies while you search for jobs on the internet instead of trekking across campus and standing in line with 10,000 other students. Maybe the thought of talking to all of those recruiters makes your knees shake. That’s exactly how I felt years ago as a college senior as I stood at the back of a crowd of students waiting for my turn, my subpar resume in hand and my stomach in knots. Trust me, we want to talk to you. If we stand at a career fair for hours and don’t meet any potential hires, it’s a bust! So I say suit up and make the trek. Here’s why.

Expand your network

Have you ever taken the time to visit Career Services? If not, the job fair is a great opportunity to meet the staff and find out about the services offered: mock interviews, resume critiques and other workshops. When companies have entry-level opportunities Career Services might be one of the first places we call, and if the staff members know you they just might toss out your name as a possible candidate.

Don’t discount building a professional relationship with recruiters. Once you’ve met us face-to-face we might be open to connecting with you via Linkedin. Just make sure you note where we met.  Perhaps you can invite us to speak and one of your organizations or reach out for advice. Once we know you we might also consider you for hire or recommend you for opportunities with some of our colleagues.

Get the inside scoop

In today’s world all you need to know is right at your fingertips, right? Not necessarily.  If you go to the fair you can ask questions and learn much more about the company and its employees. I’ll have a list of questions in a later post. Just remember, as extensive as the internet is, it’s no substitute for talking to a real live person.

No love for underclassmen

Freshman And Sophomores Need Not Apply. At least that’s how you feel. It’s true, most employers are seeking students heading into their senior year for internships. But they could also have other part-time opportunities that might be perfect for you. Landing one might be a great ‘foot in the door’ into an internship later on.

Think of this quest as a fact-finding mission. Check out the internships you’d like to have for your final year and connect with the recruiters. Find out the qualifications and use the next couple of years getting that experience under your belt. Come senior year you’ll be ahead of the game.

A living, breathing person trumps a piece of paper

While resumes are a must, they don’t speak. The career fair is an opportunity for a verbal cover letter where you can share things that might not be obvious on paper.  For instance, your transferrable skills you picked up as a college. We’re talking time management, multi-tasking abilities, leadership, work ethic, drive and countless others. You can also address a job gap or two, or even a termination without listing: Will explain if given an interview on your application (a phrase that might make us recruiters raise an eyebrow).  Not to mention, your winning personality is best expressed in person and can make up for limited experience.

Hopefully you’re convinced at this point to attend the fair. Check out my next post on how to get ready. That’s right. Don’t just show up. Make it worth your while.