Career fairs are outstanding places to land your first professional position or find the next step on the ladder. They can also be places where you inadvertently close the door on what could have been an ideal opportunity. Don't let that happen!
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I've helped many professionals start their careers and find new ones at career fairs. Here is what you need to know to rock the next career fair you attend:
1. Get Ready
More than half of your job search is preparation. Know which organizations are attending the fair and research each one using their websites and other sites like Glassdoor. Doing this will help you create a target list of companies to visit, and having a target list is the best way to utilize your time and minimize your effort.
You should also look into getting a map of the fair. Larger career fairs post these on their websites well in advance. Familiarize yourself with the locations of the companies you plan to visit. Don't miss out on what could have been "the one" because the lights were bright, everyone was on their cellphone, and the aisles all looked the same.
2. Practice Pitching
You may only have a few minutes to make a lasting impression on a recruiter. Don't take a chance – practice your pitch. Write out what your specialty is and what you excel in. Think of what you do best and exactly how your experience can help solve problems the company has. Then practice – in front of a mirror, with your friends, or by taping yourself – until you sound natural and confident delivering your pitch in about 30 seconds.
3. Suit Up
No matter what your dream job is, invest in a quality tailored suit. Make sure that it fits perfectly. Wear a coordinating button-down shirt or blouse – nothing sleeveless. Slick back trendy hairstyles. Take out visible body piercings and cover tattoos. Although many organizations have casual dress codes, conveying a more conventional business image for initial interactions is best.
4. Search Solo
The outcome of your job search will affect nearly every aspect of your life, and the effort you exert has a direct correlation to your ultimate job satisfaction. Show potential employers that you are independent from the very first interaction. Don't bring a crew with you on your search.
5. No Noshing
Don't eat whiling look for a job – a no-brainer, right? I've watched in horror as candidates balanced plates of nachos and bottles of sodas along with their stacks of resumes, as they asked recruiters questions while licking the cheese off their fingers. Eat your nachos before or after but not during your search.
6. Reserve Your Resumes
Do you have to come armed with 100 resumes and measure your success by how many are left at the end of the day? Not exactly.
If you visit your target companies, you will only need to bring a few resumes. After conversing with recruiters at your target companies, if you are interested in pursuing the next step, take a business card and email a thank-you note along with your resume and cover letter.
7. Don't Ask
Don't ask the recruiter to tell you about the company or why you should work for them. If this company is on your target list, you should already know the answers to both of these questions. Because you have done some research, the conversations you have with recruiters should be more in depth and productive. Because this is the initial stage of exploring opportunities, this isn't the time to ask about compensation.
8. The Pitch
Take a moment before you approach the company's table. Pull out your notes and think about how you may need to adjust your pitch to fit the role and industry. Before serving up your pitch, ask the recruiter how their day is going. Taking a personal interest in them will set you apart and make you even more memorable. Then, take a deep breath, wind up, and deliver your pitch. And don't forget to smile!
Evelyn Bourassa is a bilingual career coach, experienced in working with international and domestic clients.