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3 Ways To Outsmart Your Competition At Job Fairs

February 20, 2012
Illustration by Sophia Martineck

Ready, Set, Go!  This is the time of the year where many career centers at universities and colleges are so busy finalizing the details of hosting their big event – the job fair.  In general, job fairs are valuable networking and job search events.  They allow you to research a career and network directly with a variety of companies right on your very on campus.  

At these job fairs, companies and organizations may be recruiting for full-time employment and summer internships.  Depending on the college or university, a job fair may attract all types of companies from various industries such as corporate, non-profit, and government sectors.  This first meeting with company representatives can lead to an invitation to an on-site job interview for an open internship or full-time position.  Here are three (3) insights that may help you outsmart your competition, make a good first impression and better prepare you for the job fair:

Insight #1:  DO YOUR RESEARCH – Stop by your on-campus career center prior to the event and find out which companies are attending the job fair.  Talk to the counselors and try to get some insights to which companies have been actively recruiting students from the school.  Many counselors have great relationships with company representations and they may know of recent alumni that have been hired at various companies.  Ask them questions based on your interests and try to get the inside scoop on which companies to target.   Find out a little bit about the company you want to work for.  Visit the company’s website or better yet visit the company’s Facebook Fan Page and see what type of discussions is going on the wall.  Many alumni groups have started taking advantage of social media sites like LinkedInTwitter or Facebook.  Get connected and find out from your alumni what they like about their company?  What kinds of products or services does the company make or sell?  What types of majors or experience the company recruits for?

Researching a company prior to the job fair event and knowing the type of positions they are hiring make you stand out.  It shows that you are really interested in working there.

Insight #2:  PRACTICE YOUR ELEVATOR SPEECH – As a recruiter, I’ve attended job fairs where there were as many as 20 companies to over 500+ companies.  Regardless of size, one thing is for sure, recruiters at these events just do not have much time for in-depth conversations with each and every student (especially if there’s a line of students waiting for their opportunity to talk).  At times, they may have less than 2 minutes to answer a few questions and collect your resume.  It sounds funny and weird but practicing a 30-second elevator speech to introduce yourself to a potential employer will help you to anticipate and correct any mistakes beforehand.  Describing who you are and what you are looking for may help structure the conversation with the company representatives.  In your elevator speech, you should highlight and point to a few achievements on your resume such as relevant class project, your GPA (only if it is high), leadership position or even summer internships.

Here’s an example of an elevator speech.

Hello, my name is John Smith.  I’m currently a senior, majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Psychology.   I like developing mobile applications and have interest in learning more about consumer behavior.  As you can see from my resume (point to it), I have experience with C/C++, Java  with Multi-threaded applications.   I’ve been working on a few projects at school that focuses on creating applications for the Android and iOS platforms.   I read that your company has current software engineering positions for the next generation of smart phones.  I’m interested in learning more.”

Your elevator speech will help you sound more polished and concise and less nervous when talking to the company representatives.  Practice out loud while holding your resume and looking at yourself in the mirror.  This exercise prevents you from rambling in the discussion.  It also helps you build your confidence and help you stand out from the other students.  Need another example, see this YouTube link, “How to Perfect the Elevator Pitch“.

Insight #3:  LEAVE THE BACKPACKS AT HOME – I know job fairs usually occur during the middle of the school day.  However, at these events, first impressions really do matter.  Make the time after or before your next class to dress appropriately.  The best way to ensure a good first impression is to dress as if you are going to a real job interview.  Leave the backpacks, the Pi Kappa Alpha or Alpha Phi t-shirts and the ripped jeans at home.  I am not by any means a fashion specialist but it is usually best to wear a dark-colored, conservative suit (for both men and women).  Dress to impress and good personal hygiene is also important.

If you are unsure what to wear, you should always go with the most conservative and professional option.  Don’t have a nice coat, suit or a tie, then borrow one from your roommate or friend.  Most experts agree it is better to be overdressed than dressed too casually.  What you are wearing tells company representatives a lot about how serious you are about getting the job.

Don’t forget to bring a pack of AltoidsTic-TacsCertsIce Breakers, etc to maintain fresh breath.  The last thing you want to do is leave an impression of bad breath when you are standing close and talking to the company representatives.  Believe me, it happens and it gets noticed.

All of this advice comes down to three important things to remember when you are at your job fair: being prepared, professional and polite is the best way to make a positive impression!

What other insights do you have to share about preparing for an on-campus job fair?   We’d love to hear your thoughts, comments or suggestions.  Like us and join the conversation.

Good luck and happy job hunting!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2012 9:15 am

    Tough call. I find that aynnhitg with a learning curve in this industry requires years of patience before it takes off’ in the recruitment world.I once was quite excited about virtual job fairs. They scale better, provide better access and can answer the demand of job seekers and employers alike much quicker (you don’t need as much prep time & attendees have the luxury of schedule flexibility).Having watched our virtual’ attempt at uniting alumni with employers evolve into a face-2-face job fair business, I know it’s not easy to get traction. An unexpected surprise, however, was learning just how special bringing employers and job seekers together, in-person, truly is (as long as expectations are aligned and the quality on both sides is strong.)So I can’t say with confidence that these events will truly take off. Regardless I’d like to see a resurgence in high quality in-person job fairs and hope the virtual counterpart proves successful enough for all participants that it finds a long term home in the recruiting world.


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