By Sanya Seth
Career fairs or networking events can be a great one-stop for your dream internship or job. However, most college students view the prospect of attending a fair, an info session, a meet & greet, or other networking event with some fear. With hundreds of students competing for the attention of a handful of recruiters, it is important to plan ahead in order to make a lasting first impression. So how can you navigate these scenes among many other candidates and numerous employers? Here are a few tips on how to maximize your experience.
- Have a game plan
For a career fair, look for the list of participating companies on Handshake in advance and put together a list of employers that you would like to meet with and figure out what they do and/or any available positions of interest to you. If possible, try to arrive early before the fair becomes too crowded, but even if you can’t, that’s why you’ve made a list! Approach the companies on your list and if you have time, stop by any other booths you may see of interest as well. For a networking event, be sure to know the date(s)/time(s) the employer will be on campus and be sure to RSVP (if required) or appropriately schedule your time to allow you to engage with the employer.
- Do your research
Take the time before the event to learn more about the company or companies participating. Knowing about a company will help you ask better questions and enable you to come across as an interested candidate. Look to understand why a specific company appeals to you and your interests and use that information to prepare questions to help you engage in conversation with the recruiter.
- Dress for the job
Because first impressions are extremely important, take the time to prepare your appearance. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Even if you don’t go full suit, be sure to at least go business casual. You only get one chance at a first impression! Career Fair Pro tip: Wear comfortable shoes that you’ve already broken in and won’t mind standing or walking in for long periods of time!
- Know what to bring and what not to bring
Bring resumes, or business cards, with you to provide the recruiter(s). If attending a career fair, be sure to bring enough copies for all the companies you plan to meet, and then several extra. If possible, try to avoid bringing bulky backpacks or check your bag at the coat check. Also, avoid filling up your hands with all the freebies. You’re going to be shaking a lot of hands and trying to balance 8 water bottles, 6 pens, and 3 stress balls while doing so, is hard.
- Create a brief elevator pitch
To make a good impression, have a pitch that is under one-minute long that introduces yourself. Remember to include your name, major, career aspirations and how they all tie in to working for a particular company. Once you’ve created a pitch, be sure to practice it! Practice with friends, advisors, parents, or faculty to help you get the jitters out and perfect the delivery.
- Ask for contact information and follow-up
Make sure to get the contact information of the recruiter that you meet with AND USE IT! Be sure to compose an email within 24 hours after meeting thanking them for their time and mentioning something specific you took away from the conversation. If they provided any next steps, be sure to mention the completion of those items in your note!
Ultimately, success can depend on thoughtful preparation prior, effective execution during, and quality follow-up after. These few tips can go a long way towards securing your next internship or job.