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Stop Making Excuses

...And get to a career fair!

By Robert Shannon

"Yabbut." It's the first word in every stammering, deflective excuse.

Weren't you supposed to send out some resumes this week?
Yabbut I didn't get around to it.

Didn't you have an on-campus interview today?
Yabbut. Something came up.

Weren't you supposed to starting work today?

When it comes to looking for your first job, procrastination is not the key to landing a top position. This is likely very obvious to you, but let's reiterate it: The more proactive you are in your job search while still in school, the more likely you are to find an exciting, challenging and high-paying first job.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), between March 1 and April 30 of this year "of those students who submitted a job application, 51.2% had already accepted an offer for the job they would begin after graduation." And even more interestingly, based on a NACE survey of those respondents who had landed a job after graduation; average starting salaries were between $40,000 and $45,000.

"The reality exceeded respondent expectations," NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes said in a statement. "The average starting salary ranges were approximately $5,000 more than that anticipated by those respondents who had actually applied for a job."

Working it Now

To put it simply, if you show a little initiative now it's likely to pay off several months down the road. But you knew that. The question is: Where do you focus your energies? A career fair is a great place to start. It's like a smorgasbord of opportunities, chockfull of corporate representatives looking to spread the word about their companies and recruit new talent for their workforce. It's your chance to spend a few hours and get in front of any number of human resources professionals. Consider it knocking on a lot of doors all in one afternoon without a lot of wear and tear on your loafers.

Career fairs take place in various settings-on-campus, through professional associations or advocacy organizations. There are even online career fairs that let you virtually press the flesh.

You can find online career fairs hosted by individual companies, recruitment Web sites, newspapers, your career center or a collection of schools, and even fairs for specific demographic groups, like the online event for persons with disabilities held for students in California earlier this year.

Besides submitting your resume electronically, online career fairs allow you to communicate with recruiters in chat rooms. Although nothing beats being able to shake someone's hand and talk face to face, online career fairs provide an efficient option for gathering information and getting your resume to company representatives.

Whether you're researching appropriate career fairs or any other part of the job search, your career center is a great place to start. Common sense and research by NACE support that assumption: 82% of students who successfully found employment had used the services of their career center, and they were far more likely to apply at an on-campus career fair or post a resume on their school's career center Web site.

"Meanwhile, unsuccessful applicants were distinguished by their reliance on viewing job postings on company Web sites, reading job ads in newspapers, and viewing job ads on generic job search Web sites," Mackes says.

Career Fair Checklist

You know you need to get on your feet and start on your search. And you know a career fair is a great place to get the word out about your qualifications. So what's the way to get the most out of your career fair experience? Follow this simple checklist and you'll get a leg up on the other participants:

It's been preached in this spot before, but it always needs to be said. Don't go into any business meeting-and yes, career fairs qualify-without a lot of preparation. Know how to sell yourself. Know how to speak to your strengths and how they apply to the companies you're interested in. Get a list of the participating companies ahead of time and create a game plan for the fair. Don't waste your time-or their time-with companies not on your radar.

Bring Resumes
Be sure to have plenty with you and never just leave one behind at a recruiter's table. It won't go any farther than that (maybe the trash). If you're genuinely interested in a company, take the time to introduce yourself and speak with the recruiter.

Know What Comes Next
You meet a recruiter, you have a nice conversation, you're interested in the company... Now what? Before you leave, you should understand what's expected of you. At the very least, you must follow up with every recruiter you meet via a thank-you note, which brings us to...

Get Business Cards
You should never leave a recruiter's table without getting a card. It's important for two reasons: 1. It will help you keep track of who you met. (You can make brief notes on the backs of the cards.) And 2. You will have the proper spelling and mailing address for the recruiter.

Career fairs are great ways to network, research companies, and hone your interpersonal skills. Don't pass up these opportunities to kick-start your job search.

Weren't you supposed to go to a career fair today?
Yabbut I was working on my column!

Robert Shannon is a free-lance writer from Chicago.

career centerscareer fairs

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