How to Make the Most of Your Campus Job Fair

February 24, 2011 

A job fair can be a great way for college students and graduates to get their resumes in the hands of multiple recruiters in one swoop, but it can be hard to stand out amid the mass of other eager job seekers.

“With the recovering economy, job fairs are surging back on the hiring scene,” says career coach Dilip Saraf. “It is a good idea to know how to make the most of this hiring channel.”

Navigating the crowds at a job fair can be tough, but there are certain things you can do to distinguish yourself and your experiences. We had career experts weigh in on how to maximize your chances of being seen and getting offers, here’s what they had to say:

Come Prepared and ‘Name Drop’

Find out what companies will be present at the fair and identify which ones you want to talk with. Once you have your list, read up on the companies–find out their mission, current projects and any recent company news.

Ellyn Enisman, author of Job Interview Skills 101 and founder of CollegeToCareerCoaching, advises students to check out the job openings and internship positions on a company’s Web site to get a sense of what they seek from candidates.

“It may or may not pertain to them, but it usually shows the type of person the company hires,” says Enisman. “Those job descriptions and employee profiles will tell [students] what most likely they’re going to be screening for at the job fair.”

Jim Lemke, technical reviewer for Resumes for Dummies and Job Interviews for Dummies, recommends using online tools like LinkedIn to look up some names of the people you are likely to meet, such as a hiring manager or recruiter.

“The people that stood out while I was on the other side of the booth interviewing candidates are people that did their homework and would bring up names of some of the people they did research on,” he says. “It got my attention.”

Have a Strategy Mapped Out

Job fairs can be chaotic with lots of job seekers and company booths packed into a conference room. Going in with an order of who you want to talk to and when will keep you focused.

Lemke points out that the most popular employers are going to be the busiest, so if you have your heart set on a particular company, you may have to wait.

“Some of the larger employers might have huge lines, even if they have one or two openings,” he says. “It’s probably worth waiting in line if you really want to go work for that company and get your face in front of them and be well-prepared so you stand out.”

If you want to get exposure, approach tables with shorter lines to speak to as many people as you can. Practicing your pitch with other employers can boost your confidence if you are feeling nervous.

“Don’t just stand in line for two or three hours–go to booths where the lines are shorter and get yourself an interview,” says Saraf. “You get to sharpen your interview skills, you get to see some people. For all you know, you might get that job as well.”

Look the Part

Even if you know that the company you have your eye on has a casual office dress policy, the experts agree that you want to look as professional as possible.

For males, Enisman suggests wearing a dark suit, polished shoes, a belt and a watch. She suggests females wear a skirt suit and understated makeup.

And if you have any body art, or excessive piercings, cover them up.
“You want the person you’re meeting to focus on you–not your tattoos, not your jewelry,” says Enisman.

Hone Your Elevator Pitch

At most fairs you don’t have a lot of time to chat one on one with a recruiter, so have a 30-second commercial or elevator pitch ready that highlights your strengths.

Enisman suggests mentioning your school, GPA (if it’s higher than a 3.0), major(s), past job/internship experience and what you are looking for from an employer.

If time permits, asking about how the company’s recent acquisition or a new project that relates to the position you are applying for can get you noticed, says Lemke.

Saraf suggests keeping your resume clean and easy to read to make your experiences and accomplishments stand out against the crowd.

Don’t be alarmed if a recruiter doesn’t ask for or take your resume, federal regulations restrict the way employers keep information on applicants and many employers require job applicants to apply for jobs online.
Use this to your advantage. “During [the job fair] interview, you get to find out what the employer is really looking for, and then using that insight, you get to submit an on-line resume after your interview, which can help you [get hired],” says Saraf.

Make Yourself Stand Out

Out of the hundreds of people talking to employers, you want to make your presentation memorable.
If given the chance, tell a story about how you overcame a difficult situation in the past, and how that experience has shaped you.

“If I’m a recruiter, I’m looking for someone with emotional intelligence who understands how to solve problems and who can present well,” says Enisman. “That creates a memory because I may not remember [the] name, but I will remember [the] story.”

Saraf suggests that small tricks can also get you noticed, such as bringing a recruiter a refreshment on a hot day.

“Send them a resume after the booth encounter,” he says. “You write in the subject line ‘resume from the Pepsi guy’—now they know exactly who you are.”

Enisman recommends getting a business card from an employer at a company you’re interested in and jotting down something on the back that relates to your meeting to mention in a follow-up e-mail later on the same day, thanking the recruiter for his/her time. It’s also a good idea to ask the recruiter if you can follow up with him or her personally after the interview. Assuming you hear ‘yes,’ this grants you permission to continue communication.

In addition to the e-mail, Saraf says to include a well-written cover letter and your tailored resume based on what you discussed in the interview.

“Mention in the e-mail or cover letter that you plan to call them in a week or so to follow up,” he says. “This puts you in the driver’s seat by allowing you to make a follow-up call.”

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