The month of February marks the beginning of numerous career fairs in colleges and universities. To supplement general tactical approaches for success at a career fair, here are a few effective strategies to keep in mind to stand out from the crowd.
Start well. Most university career centers provide job fair information online through websites or mobile apps, with lists of employers attending. Complete any required pre-registration activities for the career fair, such as RSVP’ing online, and signing up for interview slots or meeting slots with companies. The bigger the career fair, the more the competition for such interactions, so make sure to sign up well in advance to avoid losing out on any opportunity.
Prepare smart, not hard. The bigger the career fair, greater are the number of employers attending too- but be wary of size. Three to six hours is hardly enough time to make an impression on all recruiters attending. Invest reasonable time and effort on researching specific companies to target as per job preferences. If there are open positions at these companies posted online, apply to these before coming to the fair. This not only demonstrates a proactive approach but also lends a conversational opening to career fair interactions. Limiting homework to fewer employers also provides focus and direction to career fair preparation, and optimally utilizes limited time by allowing candidates to study company profiles in greater detail. This level of knowledge will help create a distinctive pitch and approach.
Supplement research on company profiles with career fair-specific information. Investigate the company executives attending- their names, position and department. This information will help understand each company’s aims in attending the fair- for example, HR employees are usually present for direct recruitment, whereas other associates may simply be there to mark company presence. Irrespective of departmental function, company representatives may be creating a candidate bank for future employment opportunities. Be prepared and invest time wisely in accordance with personal aims.
Optimize and streamline the pitch company-wise. An elevator pitch highlighting a professional profile is important, but create a more informal pitch and introduction too. Don’t be discouraged if a company does not have openings presently, or if the booth is run by entry-level employees rather than HR employees. Take the opportunity to make connections, and learn from their recruitment and work experiences within the company setup. Understand that most career fairs are primarily forums for building a professional network rather than direct mediums for securing a job offer.
Manage and conserve energy well. With only a few moments, effectively, to cast a favorable impression on executives from each target company, energy matters. The overriding impression conveyed by a candidate’s pitch or spiel should not be of low energy, or nervousness, but of dignity, engagement and interest. Every job fair guide asks candidates to show up early, but tailor this adage to suit personal situations. Rushing in from a class looking tired, and mumbling through the conversations is not going to serve the cause well. Candidates with more energy and a naturally calm disposition should start with the most important company in the morning, but those with a tendency to experience some anxiety owing to the change in surroundings can perhaps begin with a company low in their priority of preference. Remember to replenish energy with snacks and coffee, and aim to exude energy, confidence and enthusiasm.
Brand professional competencies to stand out from the crowd. Bring profile supplements such as a professional portfolio, or creatively designed business cards. Business Schools often provide graduate students with business cards at the start of a term. These are to be used in networking, and a career fair is a perfect opportunity. However, they are not a replacement for resumes! Recruiters tend to gather a lot of business cards by the end of the day, and a business card does not make a candidate memorable. A resume helps a candidate retain an edge and allows the recruiter to mentally place him or her amongst thousands of students. A good resume will create a lasting impression.
An excellent free tool to ensure a resume is relevant and attractive is VMock. A quick, 10-second resume check on VMock.com, a SMART career platform provides detailed feedback against 100+ parameters. It aids in optimizing expression of key competencies such as teamwork, communication, leadership, initiative and analytical skills that attract and sustain recruiter attention.
Avoid freebie chasing. Nothing says unprofessional and casual faster than carrying around a giant neon green piggy bank that a bank booth is giving away. By staying away from the larger freebies, a candidate can avoid giving the impression that they are attending simply to collect freebies. However, feel free to have a small inconspicuous, edible treat such as a chocolate that a representative insists on during an interaction or conversation.
Observe and gather information while at the fair. Some companies do not provide detailed information about product lines, business history or management online. This is especially true for startups and small to mid-sized enterprises. These booths should not be judged and eliminated for their lack of bells and whistles. Similarly, job search at a technical career fair, does not mean you disregard non-tech companies. Both avenues provide valuable opportunities, so do approach these companies if there is time. Gather their informational brochures and other materials. After perusing those, ask anything that is pertinent but missing. This will demonstrate interest, and if nothing else, you will come away wiser than anyone who simply did an internet-based search.
Attention to detail is key. Most students employ a tactical approach to making the most of a career fair, but thinking strategically about the career opportunities it can provide, affords several avenues to create differentiators in a professional profile. Prepare SMART and differently, employ flexibility and an open-minded, innovative approach to derive maximum momentum and value from a career fair.0