Articles > Cheatsheet

Career Fair Rules to Live By

Donít attend your next career fair without reading this first

By Robert Shannon

“Nobody likes a wise guy.” You’ve certainly heard that before, and maybe even been told it by a parent or teacher. And it’s true. In most cases sarcasm won’t get you very far. If you’re really good at it, perhaps a late-night talk show is in your future. But for most of us, being a wise guy is, well, not so wise. Especially when you’re trying to impress recruiters at a career fair.

Keep in mind that being wise and acting wise are separate matters. And when you’re attending a career fair, being wise is your ultimate priority. When you possess wisdom about your skills, education, professional goals, and the companies and industries you’re interested in—and apply all of this wisdom in a comprehensive manner—you’ll be a standout at every career fair you attend.

Ignore the Butterflies

Nervousness is only natural during a job interview, informational interview or even an informal chat with a recruiter during a career fair. The key, however, is to learn to overcome your nervousness and to not let it become an obstacle that might hinder your success.

Having a firm grasp on what you want to discuss with the recruiter can be a great tonic for your nerves. Nothing’s worse than being tongue-tied in front of someone you want to impress. If you come to a career fair prepared with the knowledge you want to impart, you will be able to effectively communicate to the recruiters and that will separate you from your peers.

Your Chance to Shine

You’ve probably heard it again and again: style counts. Yes, you must possess substance, but if you can’t present that substance to a recruiter in an interesting way, then what good is it? It’s like being the best dancer at the party. If you’re sitting in the corner by yourself, who’s going to know?
“You’ve got to be able to communicate with us,” says a human resources expert for a telecommunications company in Chicago who attends a number of career fairs each year. “We’re not going to draw the information out of you. It’s not an interrogation. Too often we meet applicants who are very reticent, and I always think, ‘You’re wasting this great chance to get in with a company, to make a friend in human resources, to strut your stuff a little.’”

So how do you avoid wasting your golden opportunity? What’s the best way to strut your stuff? And how do you get ready to strut your stuff?

Practice. Practice. Practice.

The human resources expert says, “You can’t just wing these things. You have to know how to talk about yourself. You know you’re going to get, in some form, the question, ‘Tell us about yourself.’ [Recruiters] are going to want to hear what you’ve done in school, what you want to do professionally, and why you want to work for [their company.] But you’d be surprised how many people struggle with those questions.”

So how do you prepare? Think about those simple questions—what have you done, what do you want to do—and come up with your answers. Come up with a two-minute pitch, like a commercial for yourself, which covers your highlights. Talk briefly about your education success, your co-op and internships experiences and any relevant jobs. Treat it as you would an oral presentation. Make an outline. Rehearse your spiel. You don’t have to memorize it, but you should be comfortable talking about any of these areas depending upon what you feel is most appropriate to focus on with a particular recruiter.

What to Bring

Don’t forget to bring along a simple leather portfolio or briefcase containing many copies of your resume. You won’t get far without them! Hopefully you will have many recruiters asking for copies.

It’s also helpful to back up your resume—and your spiel—with documents from previous employers, professors and/or mentors. Nothing validates what you have to say about your past experiences like the words of someone you’ve worked for or studied under. As much as you need to sing your own praises, it also means a lot when someone else can validate you. So bring along any performance appraisals, letters of recommendation, or similar documents that will help establish you as a reliable and effective employee.

“It says a lot,” the recruiter asserts, “if you’ve got some documentation for our files to go along with your resume. That puts you ahead of the crowd, and it tells me you’re well prepared and organized.”

What to Expect

Career fairs are basically for information gathering. Your goal should be to find out about the companies and positions you’re interested in. Similarly, the recruiters are there to find out about potential applicants. You’re not there for a formal interview process, but you are being evaluated and should treat it as an interview. Therefore, leave the jeans and tennis shoes at home, and dress in business professional attire. All other interviewing rules apply as well—be professional, speak clearly, let the recruiter set the tone. Be confident, but not cocky. Remember, from the time you walk up and introduce yourself, you are being assessed.

What’s Next?

Before you say goodbye to a recruiter that you’re talking to at a career fair, make sure you know what your next move should be. Should you call them in a few weeks to follow up? Will they be contacting you? No matter what, you should always send a thank-you note to any recruiter that you speak to at length. Make sure you grab one of their cards so you have their correct name, title and address. Jot some quick notations on the back of their card so you will remember the particulars of your conversation.

Don’t get overwhelmed, know your stuff and be prepared. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll stand out from your peers, if you follow these simple techniques.

Robert Shannon is a free-lance writer in Chicago.

career fairs

Articles > Cheatsheet