Stand out at the career fair

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It’s career fair seasons at campuses all across the country. If you’re a student and you have a career fair coming up, here are 3 things you can do to stand out and get companies to notice you.

1. Bring your A game

The career fair is your chance to get a feel for the professional world. It’s therefore important to bring your A game. Wear a suit or your most professional clothes and nice shoes, print copies of your résumé on quality paper and carry your documents in a folder. Don’t bring a backpack.

These steps may seem trivial but they’re important. The career fair is loud, it’s busy and employers can only spend a few minutes with each student. The more seriously you take it, the more seriously they will take you.

If you go to the career fair with a friend or classmate, make sure you’re going with someone who’s as serious about it as you are. It’s better to go alone than to go with someone who could hurt your chances to make a good first impression. It may even be a good idea to go alone; you’ll eventually be interviewing alone, so the career fair could be a good place to learn to fly solo.

2. Do your homework

Many students go to the career fair, stop at every kiosk and ask about job opportunities. What happens to these students is that the representatives tell them to their website, gives them a business card or a pamphlet and then the student is on to the next kiosk.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not going to get you noticed.

A better way would be to take a look at the list of attending companies beforehand and quickly Google every company. I say to Google everyone because you’ll know a few of the big names, but you probably won’t know every company on the list. This initial scan will help you to compile a list of companies that actually interest you.

Once you’ve pared it down to the companies you’re interested in, research those. Find out where the headquarters is, what their main business is and where they operate. Find one thing that surprises you about the company and think of one question. This is important because it will give you something to talk about with the representatives.

You never want to ask a representative something that’s readily available on the website. It’s okay if you get nervous and forget some details, but representatives know the difference between someone who is nervous and someone who’s bluffing.

Employers like people who come prepared so feel free to bring your notes you’re not that good remembering information. Everyone has a different style: some people are better at memorizing, some people work better with notes.

3. Introduce yourself and get the ball rolling

There’s a specific way to introduce yourself that will get the ball rolling with the representatives at your target companies:

  1. Say your name (first and last name) as you shake hands with each representative
  2. Tell them what your major is, what year you’re in and when you expect to graduate
  3. Tell them that they are among your list of target companies and why

At this point, on of two things will happen: either 1) one of the representatives will start talking which will get the conversation going or 2) they will remain silent, listening for what you’re going to say next.

If they remain silent, you can share what you prepared from the last section: what surprised you about the company then ask your question. This will get the representatives talking.

This exchange may seem awkward or you may feel that you’re making mistakes but this approach is truly what will help you to stand out. So many students lead with their résumés, then they have nothing to talk about. By leading with a thorough introduction, giving a meaningful reason for being there then asking a pertinent question, the employer will take an interest in you as a person.

When things seem to be wrapping up, this is when you reach for your résumé and ask them what kinds of opportunities they would have for someone with your background. This gives you a chance to spend a little more time finding out about the company and if this could be a potential employer.

Career fairs are about the long game: learning about companies, finding prospective employers for an internship or a future career opportunity. If you focus on making a good impression and getting noticed by employers, you’re giving yourself a great chance for some interesting opportunities once your final exams are over.