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How To Career Fair

I’ve gotten many of requests for my advice on how to get the most out of a career fair while in college. After frequenting fairs for four years, I’ve gained a lot of understanding and appreciation for the “art” of “career fairing”. I’ve attended every single fair on campus during my undergrad as well as several in downtown Atlanta. I’m no expert but I know what I went through and that’s what most college students are going through now. If nothing else, I can point my friends to this post when they ask me for help. I’ll do my best to explain what I’ve learned through much trying and failing, and finally understanding. So first off some of this stuff is gonna sounds like obvious, but the obvious doesn’t matter if it isn’t executed correctly.

Allow me to first state that if you have career practice/advice resources on campus, USE THEM. Go to the career fair prep meetings, and resume workshops. They help more than you know or realize.

Before the career fair:

For the love of god, update your resume. Put everything that is important on a single page. No, it’s not a myth. Yes, it should be one page if you’re still in college. References are not necessary unless asked for. Also, prepare a generic cover letter template that you can customize for each opportunity as it comes. You won’t need the cover letter at the career fair, but it is good for when you email your resume and when you are applying online. I also printed my resume on actual resume paper. Is it over the top? Probably. Do people notice? Most of the time. Is it necessary? Absolutely not.

At the career fair:

Dress like yourself but like a well dressed version, if that makes sense. Know what you want before you go in. If it’s an internship, open with introducing yourself and state your major and that you’re interested in an internship. If they do offer one, then they may ask what you’re looking for in an internship. You’ll have to decide what that means for you. I stated that I’d like to grow and learn from experts and veterans in computer science and bring to the table a fresh mindset. They’ll ask what programming languages you’re comfortable with. Don't lie. You may be able to get past the recruiter, but you will not get past the gatekeeper software engineer that'll be interviewing you.

If you are looking for your first full time gig, be more specific in what you are looking for. Don’t tell recruiters what you think they want to hear. If you want to kick off your career somewhere, you want it to be a culture fit as well as a professional fit. You are in more demand than you realize. They are there to recruit you. You’re feeling them out while they are feeling you out. The conversation template is pretty much the same. Overall, be yourself. You want them to hire YOU, not who you’re pretending to be. Quit it.

If you can know more about a company, and the industry that they operate in, then that is important. If you really want the internship/job, then research and see if they are offering positions online. Then you can come in prepared, letting them know that you saw they had openings and that you were interested. If you had a specific one with an ID number, then that shows your genuine interest. If you do so, be ready to explain why you want it and how you’re qualified. The more you know about a company environment, workflow, and what their focus areas are, the better you will look.

Also, run the MySpace formula. Have a top 5 list of companies and PREPARE. Have a game plan. If you’re better when you rehearse it, then rehearse. I personally just make sure I know the details and let it flow. I've put myself in enough uncomfortable situations that I had to adapt to on the fly, so it's just easier for me to be more conversational.

Then after the conversation, ASK FOR A BUSINESS CARD. Get a phone number and AT LEAST an email. Email them with a follow up the night after you meet them or the next morning. The email should hint at the conversation you had with them and if they remember the conversation, then you have a leg up. Also attach your resume (AS A PDF unless they request a word doc) and say something along the lines of, “I’ve attached my resume here just in case you need a digital version”.

Constantly keep in touch with your recruiter. They want you to get hired. So the easier you make their job, the easier they’ll make your process. If a week passes after you send a follow up and you don’t get a reply, follow up again. Keep yourself on their mind.

After jumping through all those hoops:

Keep jumping. Stay motivated and moving. Keep applying online. Browse LinkedIn and Glassdoor. Find what is right for you and even though the career fair has and abundant amount of opportunity, it’s finite and limited. Any time I wasn’t working on projects or studying, I was on LinkedIn and Glassdoor. I was always tired, but I’d rather be exhausted than unmotivated. That isn’t a jab at anyone or their preferences. Just for me personally, I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough to give me a leg up.

Also, I won’t go in super deep on this here, but I love LinkedIn. If you aren’t building yours up and utilizing its networking potential, then you are doing yourself a great disservice in your job hunt. That being said, here’s my shameless plug to my LinkedIn.

This was a slightly edited repost. Since it's career fair season again, I thought it might be nice to share this again. Good luck!

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