Career fairs are incredible opportunities for candidates. Dozens of companies gather in one place, offering the chance to explore more jobs and internships in one day than a job seeker might get in a month of submitting resumes online.
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Many employers even conduct on-the-spot interviews, which means candidates don't have to wait weeks or months after submitting an application to actually speak to the employer. Additionally, career fairs are great networking opportunities. Even if a candidate isn't interested in a position with a certain company at the time of the fair, the connection is there to be leveraged in the future.
However, because career fairs offer so much, they're often swamped with candidates. It may seem impossible to stand out when there's such a large crowd, but you'll do great if you follow a few simple guidelines:
According to one study, 47 percent of candidates are eliminated from the running because they have little or no knowledge of the company with which they are interviewing. As a professional and qualified candidate, you should never go into a career fair blind.
Find out in advance what companies are going to be at the fair. Have an idea beforehand of the ones with which you'd like to connect, and know exactly which positions you want to discuss. Wandering around looking for something that seems interesting is a waste of both your time and the recruiters' time.
After you've researched the companies you're interested in, create a game plan to tackle them all. Decide in advance which booths to visit first and where you should head if the lines are getting long. Remember that time is limited at a career fair, so standing in lines should be avoided whenever possible. You can always move on to the next booth on the list and come back later.
Look the Part
A career fair is basically a series of short, personal interviews, and what you wear in an interview matters: 65 percent of respondents to a survey said clothes could be a deciding factor between two practically identical candidates.
When attending a career fair, dress like you would for any other formal interview – but make sure you're wearing fairly comfortable clothing. Heels or a stiff suit might be okay for a sit-down interview, but career fairs involve a lot of walking and standing.
In addition, don't bring much more than your resume with you. A small bag for essentials works fine, but you don't want to be encumbered by a coat, briefcase, or anything else that might get in the way of handshakes and business cards.
The brief interviews you have at career fairs are not the same as formal, sit-down interviews. The recruiter probably won't ask a series of questions to find out more about you. Instead, you'll need to use the interview to sell yourself.
Before the big day arrives, practice talking about yourself to friends, colleagues, or even in front of the mirror. You should discuss your interests, your qualifications, and anything else that's relevant to the position.
In addition to what you say, make sure you're taking note of how you say it. Body language and tone can make or break an interview, so make an effort to sound friendly and confident. Recruiters want to hire people they would get along with, so showcasing your personality as well as your qualifications is a must.
Perfect the art of the quick pitch that covers all the relevant information you want prospective employers to know. Before the fair, write down everything you think you'd like to say. Then, edit the pitch down to only the most vital information and rehearse until you can confidently deliver it.
While career fairs are full of recruiters looking for great candidates, there may be dozens of candidates in attendance who are just as qualified as you are. This sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate yourself from the crowd. However, if you plan ahead, dress for the part, and know how to sell yourself, and you'll be sure to stand out.
A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.
Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.
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