So I’m standing here, résumés in hand, begging my friend not to leave my side. We’ve arrived at the career fair early, too early it almost seems, as there’s practically no one here.
“So we just dive right in?” I ask my friend.
He’s in the same professional development class I’m in and we’re both just as unfamiliar with how career fairs work. The career development center has given us each a nametag with our major and our year on it, like we’re at some sort of summer camp, trying to mingle with the other campers. Eventually, after standing and nervously inching toward the tables, the head of the career development center jumps in front of us.
“Trying to figure out how this works?” she asks. She can see the fear in our eyes.
“Yeah,” is all I respond.
Before she can say much else, the embarrassment of being confronted by this woman becomes enough to launch my friend into the system and begin the career hunt. I, on the other hand, stay put, petrified with nerves and anxiety.
“I just don’t know how to start,” I explained.
“All you do is go up to a booth, say hi, and ask about their company,” she replies, “it’s easy.”
I gave the room another one over. I spotted a table that had the word retail, an industry I am all too familiar with, on the side of it, so I took a deep breath and dove in.
Okay, so I know I set this up to make it seem like a daunting experience, but it was. The first time. After that, I quickly became a pro. No job prospects came from me speaking with the retail booth, and nothing came from any of the other booths I talked to that day either. But I did learn how career fairs work. You walk in, résumés in hand, a smile on your face that shows confidence, whether you feel it or not, and you just go for it. Approach the booths first that you know something about. When I went to the next career fair, I b-lined in straight to the Arkansas Department of Education since I had previously been on track to enter the Masters in Teaching program. I spoke with the recruiter for over 20 minutes which, at a career fair, is a fairly long time. He gave me information I asked for, and a lot more I had no idea I wanted to know. The one thing to keep in mind about career fairs is that recruiters are there to answer your questions and help you figure out if their company is the right fit for you. In return, you have to make them believe that you are the right fit.
This is how I nailed an interview for an internship and turned it into a potential full-time job prospect:
- Show interest and excitement in the company
Sure, I had never once set foot into the store I was applying to work in before approaching their booth, but I knew what the company did and I rolled with what I had. I told them about my experience in retail, how it was something that I loved doing, and how it was something I would like to continue to do after graduation. They loved hearing a candidate’s excitement in both the industry and their company’s specific culture.
- Show them what you bring to the table
The position they were originally recruiting for was a summer internship that would teach the candidate how to manage a store. I explained to them how I worked my way up at my current job and was seen as a leader among the other associates. I highlighted my empathetic personality and my social skills and gave them my résumé to review. In a few weeks, I got a phone call. That phone call turned into an interview, which turned into a second interview. Instead of turning me down because my major didn’t require an internship like so many business majors do, they gave me a different opportunity. They liked my skills and experience so much that they were able to cater the position to me. I made myself a candidate that they couldn’t turn down.
- Be personable
No matter who I was talking to at the fair I tried to make a personal connection, whether that’s through complimenting their sense of style or their dedication to their respective company, asking them more in depth about their work with the company, or figuring out we had the same major in college and discussing our use of the major in different ways. Some of the best conversations I had were with the women I felt I could talk to easily because of similar interests and work style. The last thing you want a recruiter to think is that you’re just another college student looking for a job. Remember that you’re a human being and they are a human being too. Show them how you stand out, even if it has nothing to do with your résumé.
Career fairs can be nerve-racking. As a senior in this decade, you might think I’ve got networking down to a T, but I don’t. The career fair process can be exhausting on both yours and the recruiter’s part, but can prove to be well worth it in the end. Even if I don’t land a job from the recruiters I talked to, it served as a learning experience. I learned that I’m able to talk to people quickly to both gather and convey the information that I need without sounding like a robot. I ended up using one of the last career fairs as a way to simply practice. For me, the career fair does more than just show me job options; it serves as a way for me to prove how capable I am of making connections with professionals and as a reminder of what strengths and skills I can bring to any workplace.