With spring approaching, now is the time to get started preparing for job fairs. To help ensure success at these events, take the time to review the following seven job fair tips for college students and learn how to stand out from the crowd and impress recruiters.
- Do your homework. Get online and do your research. Determine which companies will be attending the job fair and plan with whom you want to meet. Most importantly, go to each company’s website and research the job and/or internships openings the company has available. This technique will help you structure your conversations with recruiters and ensure your resume is getting into the stack that is marked for a specific position opening, rather than being sent to a folder with hundreds of general application resumes.
- Create different versions of your resume. Based on your research, tailor your resume to the jobs you are interested in discussing with specific companies. Highlight your relevant skills and experience by using a keyword summary on your resume (for more information on how to customize your resume using keywords, see our post on effective resumes [insert CB link]). Tailoring your resume in this way will get the recruiter’s attention immediately, as she can scan the document in seconds and see how you are a potential match for the job she has available.
- Know how to answer the tough questions. The most common (and toughest) question you can expect to be asked by recruiters at a job fair is, “Tell me about yourself.” The best way to answer this question is by using an “elevator pitch.” Your elevator pitch communicates to others in approximately one minute or less who you are, what type of job you are seeking and what skills you bring to a company. You want to include information such as what year you are in school, your major, the profession you are interested in pursuing after graduation, and any jobs or internships you have held, along with the skills you gained from those jobs.
If you are concerned that your work experience might not be up to par, career expert Emily Bennington, in her January 17 article, “3 Tips for Students to Ace Job Fairs,” notes that recruiters recognize that college students often lack work experience. Recruiters therefore look for leadership potential. She notes,“Since you may not have any real career experience yet, [leadership] will be evaluated by how you’ve spent your time on campus. [...] Have you assumed any leadership roles within a student organization? Do you have any volunteer experience? What interests or passions do you have outside of your classes that could demonstrate leadership ability? Employers know that if you can lead in any of these capacities, then those skills readily translate into the office environment.”
Build these types of experiences into your elevator pitch. To see a student’s pitch in action, check out the video in the resource section below.
- Dress for success. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from recruiters and hiring managers in my role as an HR professional is the style in which college students dress at job fairs—either too informally or too provocatively. While expressing your sense of individual style is part of being yourself, when it comes to interviewing, the reality is you won’t be taken seriously if your clothing doesn’t communicate a sense of professional polish. Therefore, err on the side of being conservative. You want people to remember you for what you can accomplish, not what you were (or weren’t) wearing. For a complete guide to interview attire, including photos and shopping tips specifically designed for college students on a budget, check out the SYMS Dress to Achieve website.
- Project confidence with the right body language. When meeting with recruiters, provide a firm, confident handshake when you introduce yourself and use appropriate eye contact. When you are first starting out in your career, employers don’t have a lot of background information to work from when evaluating your credentials. Therefore, first impressions that convey a sense of easy confidence and professionalism are especially important.
- Ask for business cards. After speaking with a recruiter, politely ask for his or her business card. After the meeting wraps up, turn the card over and take a few moments to make a note of something specific you and the recruiter discussed—such as how your finance internship provided you with database and reporting skills that are a prerequisite for the job for which that specific recruiter is hiring. This information will be critical in helping you with step seven.
- Follow up and send a thank you letter or e-mail. Although everyone talks about it, very few students actually take the time to send a thank you email or letter. This is where you can stand out. Within 24 hours after the event, follow up with each recruiter you met. Thank the recruiter for his or her time and include one to two meaningful details from your conversation based on the notes you took earlier. Recruiters will literally be meeting with hundreds, sometimes thousands of candidates, at each job fair, so personalizing your message is critical and can be the difference between securing a new job or continuing on in the job search process.
Want to learn more? Check out the following resources:
A great video from the Northern Illinois University’s Career Services demonstrates a student and recruiter in action at a real job fair.
Need some help getting started creating your elevator pitch? Check out this online elevator pitch creator from the Harvard Business School.
To locate upcoming career fairs in your area, check with your career services department. You can also secure information from the following links: