Although scaled back significantly in many markets, Career Fair season is under way. Career Fairs provide important opportunities to expand professional networks, so I asked our former intern, Lauren Dee, to share some tips after she and our HR recruiter set up shop last week at DePaul University’s Fair. Here are Lauren’s observations and recommendations on how to successfully navigate a career fair.
Get there early. If you are taking the initiative and attending a career fair, good for you! Depending on who is hosting the fair, you could be lumped in with students from many different departments, so what can you do to beat the crowd? Get there early. There is usually a ten minute period right at the beginning when people are slowly filtering in, and that is your window of opportunity. Go to the table where you feel most comfortable (hopefully you’ve done your research and know a couple agencies basic client list and philosophy), and introduce yourself.
When I say get there early, I also mean start going early on (2nd or 3rd year of undergrad). The more exposure you have to networking with various agencies and familiarizing yourself with their names and faces, the more comfortable you will feel in this setting when the time comes for the job hunt. In other words, don’t wait until Spring your senior year to attend.
Know your stuff. Know who/what agency or organizations are going to be attending the event beforehand. You can do this by contacting the event organizer, whether that is your school’s Public Relations department or your local PRSSA chapter president. They know who is on the roster and will be able to provide you with a list of participants. Find out as much you can about companies you are interested in.
In addition to researching the companies, you should have a great handle on your own qualifications. Before you walk over, read through your resume and/or portfolio to make sure you can pull out the key highlights of your experiences without having to refer to them to answer questions. If you already know what kind of PR interests you, awesome! If not, don’t panic. Be honest with the recruiters, tell them you are still trying to find a niche, but really have enjoyed your classes involving [your favorite class].
Narrow your search. If this is a large scale event involving companies from all different spectrums of the business world, narrow your research. You won’t have time to visit all the booths, so pick a few top contenders and focus on pitching your experience to them.
Ask the right questions. “What does your company do?”… “Are you hiring?”… “How much do you pay interns?”… None of these questions should come out of your mouth, especially if they are to an agency you might want to work for one day. Know the basics of the company’s hiring process, and you will come across as prepared and competent. If you don’t know what the company does or is, be more efficient with your time and seek out the ones you do know. If you start your introductions with “I’ve heard a lot about your agency,” be prepared to answer “What have you heard?” Recruiters are there to find out about you, just as much as you are there to find out about them.
Divide and conquer. When you first walk in the door, survey the room. Depending on how long the fair lasts and how much time you spend at each table, make a list of your top 4, 8, 10 companies and focus your attention on them. Don’t loiter around; make use of your limited time there. Chances are certain companies are going to be popular amongst the majority, so have patience and make your personality and experience stand out against the crowd.
- Carry at least 15-20 copies of your resume.
- Bring your portfolio, but don’t hand out copies or ask for feedback at the fair. Recruiters and company representatives are there to make efficient use of their time, and with a line of 15 people behind you, critiquing your portfolio is not top priority. If you find a great connection with a recruiter and they seem helpful, ask if you can send over your resume and portfolio for them to look over electronically. Many recruiters were in your shoes a couple years ago and are happy to give you some feedback.
- Collect business cards, and keep a pad of paper and pen with you constantly. If you had a great conversation with a representative, make note of what you spoke about. If you can bring that conversation to the attention of the rep when you follow-up, they will most likely remember you. Which brings me to…
- Follow Up! If you want to get a head start on getting your name out to the PR world, keep the lines of communication open. Surprisingly, a very small percentage of students send personal notes or e-mails to thank recruiters for speaking with them, and the few that do get noticed. But don’t overdo it. Simply stating that you enjoyed your conversation surrounding the company, and you look forward to speaking soon about upcoming opportunities is sufficient. Checking-in once every couple months after that point is plenty.