The entire concept of a career fair is dually terrifying and ingenious: it’s a throng of real-world professionals gathered in one room, ready for the onslaught of soon-to-be college graduates and potential employees. It sounds like every college student’s dream, but it’s actually one of the most intimidating experiences you might face as a young professional. The best way to successfully tackle a career fair is to plan in advance, so follow these simple rules and watch your networking skills blossom:
1. Set a goal: Examine your experience level, anticipated graduation date, and career goals. What do you need out of a career fair? The chance to practice networking? Internship opportunities? A job interview? If you’re a senior, your career fair goals are going to be totally different than a freshman’s, so determine exactly what you want from the experience before you jump in.
2. Practice your handshake: Aside from your choice in business casual dress, this the first impression that a potential employer is going to have of you, so be prepared. Avoid the “dead fish,” but don’t be too vigorous with your handshake either; make it friendly and personable, but firm. Practice with your friends, or better yet, search online for tips or ask your career center for their handshaking expertise.
3. Update your resume: Make sure you have everything potentially relevant on your resume in as concise and readable a format as possible. But before you press print…
4. Proofread everything: A typo or spelling error is an immediate rejection from some employers, so make sure your resume is as flawless as possible. Read the entire document aloud before printing it, then have at least one other trusted reader give it a look. Better yet, take your resume to the career center and have a professional perfect it.
5. Practice your elevator speech: Chances are, you’ll be in a crowded, echo-y gymnasium with very limited time to make an impression at each company’s booth. So make each conversation count. Prepare a brief elevator speech with a friendly introduction, your name, year, major, and career goals, and practice as much as possible, preferably with your friends or career mentor.
6. Do your research: Read about the companies that will be in attendance and determine which you want to visit beforehand. Instead of walking up to a booth and saying, “So what do you guys do?” you’ll be able to proudly say, “I really admire your company. I have a question about…” Prepare what you want to ask in advance, and make each question really count.
7. Be curious: If you’re genuine and honest with each of your interactions, people will remember you. Networking is a tricky balance of sincerity and egotism, but if you do it right, you’ll come across as an excited, open-minded young professional with a great resume.