What to do at a career fair

Tips to consider before you go to a career fair.

Career fairs are rising in popularity. It’s a great way for businesses and organizations to meet people in the community who might be interested in joining their employment team. If you’ve never been before, you might want to consider some of the following tips. If you’ve been to career fairs before, but they haven’t worked out well for you, perhaps you can review the suggestions for some self-improvement.

Have you ever heard someone say, “You never get a second chance at first impressions?” It’s true! A first impression is what someone thinks about you when they first see you. Without even saying a word, people by nature create an image of who you are, what you’re like, the skills you possess, how well you can do a job, etc.

To make a great first impression at a career fair, consider:

  • What you wear. Be sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle-free, fit properly and aren’t too casual or too dressy.
  • Smiling. If you’re having a bad day and your face will show it, you might want to reconsider attending a career fair. Put a smile on your face. You should be happy to be there – after all, you might just leave with an internship or a job!
  • Bringing your resume. Be sure to bring a fresh, clean resume. Your resume is part of a first impression. When you put care and detail into your resume, the employer might assume you’ll also put care and detail into your job. Consider bringing copies of your resume in a clean, unmarked folder.

What you do when you meet a possible employer makes a difference, too. Consider your body language:

  • Posture. Stand tall as you walk through the career fair. Don’t hunch over, have your hands in your pockets or look constantly at the floor. Put your shoulders back and stand proud of who you are. This will exude your confidence that you’re the right person for the job.
  • Eye contact. Make eye contact and keep it. Another Michigan State University Extension article of mine, “Eye contact: An introduction to its role in communication,” suggests that eye contact during a conversation shows attentiveness and interest in what’s being said. It goes back and forth.
  • Handshakes. Don’t forget to shake hands as you meet people. As Janice Zerbe suggests in “Business handshake – your first impression,” when you shake hands with people, you’re actually communicating. Be sure you are communicating the message that best represents you!

Once you’ve mastered your non-verbal communication skills, think about what you’d like to say at the career fair. Some suggestions include:

  • Telling the person your name, where you’re from and what your career interests are. Career interests may include your major, technical skills or current college or university. Never tell a possible employer you’re not really sure what you want to do or where you want to go. Create a plan and communicate that plan.
  • Describing why you’re at the career fair and at their booth. For instance, you might want to say that you’re interested in _________. Fill in that blank with things like: I’m interested in learning more about your business. I’m interested in what divisions your company has aligned with my field of interest. I’m interested in discovering how my career path ties to your organization.
  • Telling your plans for the future. For instance, tell them if you’re looking for an internship for next summer, a job for when you graduate or a position that’s open right now. The possible employer is at the career fair because they are looking for people to align with their needs. Communicate your needs – they just might be a perfect fit!

Be sure to leave a lasting impression. Just as a first impression is vitally important, a lasting impression is, too! Each time you talk with a different organization or person, but sure you end the conversation with a great lasting impression. Here are some tips to accomplish that:

  • Receive contact information. Be sure to ask for a business card. You’ll want to remember who you talked to and what they said. Consider making some quick notes on the back of the business card about things you’ll want to keep in mind. When you give the person your resume, they’ll have a way of getting in contact with you. Now you’ll have swapped contact information.
  • Say thank you. Feel free to compliment the person you’ve spoken with by saying, “It’s been nice talking with you.” No one wants to feel like they have had their time wasted, so thanking them for their time is a great way to leave a lasting impression.
  • Shake hands as you leave. It’s appropriate to shake hands as a greeting for entering a conversation, as well as leaving a conversation.

Lastly, be sure to follow up with the people you spoke with at the career fair. Send a follow up e-mail that recaps some of the things you talked about. That will help them to recall your conversation. Don’t forget to thank them one more time for talking with you during the career fair.

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