Two Tips for College Career Fairs

I love career fairs. There’s such a high level of energy and a sense of excitement in the air. While students are printing out multiple copies of their resumes and getting dressed up in their business attire, recruiters are setting up their booths with their displays and give-aways. The sense of anticipation runs high on both sides. Students wonder how many companies will be interested in them. Recruiters wonder how many potential candidates they’ll have in the stack of resumes they return home with.

As exciting as career fairs are, however, it can be a long day for all parties involved. From the recruiter’s perspective, it can be a tough day if you’re representing a company that is not well known. You have to work much harder than recruiters from well-known companies just to get students over to your booth. On the other hand, if you’re with a large company that everyone knows about, the line of students waiting to talk to you is never ending. Just finding time to take a quick restroom break can be challenging!

Having been fortunate enough to attend career fairs representing both types of companies, there are a few things I want to share with you as you prepare to attend your school’s upcoming fair.

#1. Don’t shy away from those companies you’ve never heard of.

Yes, they may require a little more post-career fair investigation than, say Google or IBM, but you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find. I worked for a small consulting company that had just implemented a college recruiting program. Although we couldn’t necessarily compete with the larger companies from a budget perspective, we were still first-class all the way. From our second round of interviews on-site at the company’s brand-new tech center (very impressive) to the first week of orientation held at a resort in Florida, everything was done with the employees’ best interest in mind. I was thrilled to be a part of this company. But…no one knew about us. So, when it came to career fairs, I had my work cut out for me. Students would walk right past me, not even glancing in my direction. Sandwiched between booths of well-known companies with lines of student on either side of me, I would literally have to step right in front of students just to get their attention. For those students that took the time to talk to me, however, it paid off handsomely. Not having the hundreds of resumes to review that larger companies left career fairs with, I was able to do more than just give a quick 6-second scan to each one. I actually read them. Yes, each and every one. And by doing so, I saw things that other companies might have overlooked, simply because they were overwhelmed with so many resumes. And that’s one of the good things about smaller, lesser-known companies: they don’t get as many resumes, so they take their time with the ones they do get.

And now, for the complete opposite perspective….

#2. Don’t give up on the long lines at the well-known companies.

Going from a small, unknown consulting company to working for one of the world’s top automobile manufacturers was quite a change. Nowhere was this change more obvious than at career fairs. No longer did I have to jump in front of students and block their paths simply to get their attention. Now, I had a line of students at my booth from opening to closing. I talked to hundreds of students! Quite honestly, I was amazed at the patience of students as they stood in line waiting for their chance to show me their resume and find out if we had any openings that they would qualify for. As a student, I imagine it would be somewhat intimidating to see such a long line. I would also guess that there were many students that simply chose to move along to another booth rather than wait in that line. But here’s the thing you may not realize about big lines at big companies: only a small fraction of the candidates actually meet the companies’ qualifications. My particular company had several qualifications that potential candidates had to meet before being considered for an interview, including a minimum GPA and specific graduation dates (among other things). Although I talked to many candidates that demonstrated potential, if they didn’t meet the minimum qualifications their resume would be put in the “no” pile as soon as they left my booth.

So, what does this mean for you? First, do your research. Find out what companies are coming to the career fair. Find out what they’re hiring for and what their qualifications are. If you meet the minimum qualifications, stay in that line! Secondly, get straight to the point when you talk to the recruiters. With so many students to talk to, you’re only going to get a couple minutes of their time, at most. Let them know right up front that you’ve done your research, you meet their qualifications, you want to work for them, and why they should hire you. Yes, that’s a lot to say in a short time. But if you practice, deliver it confidently and respectfully, and have a great resume and portfolio to go with it, you’ll be remembered.

Regardless of your goals for the career fair, the important thing is that you 1) GO, and 2) are prepared to make the most of every possible opportunity. (And have fun!)

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