Practice Makes Perfect at Career Fairs

The very idea of a career fair had me turning two shades of red a month ago. A room full of potential employers watching my every move…No thanks! Little did I know that these events are only as intense as you make them. Through a slow immersion process I found a lot more can be gained through the dreaded career fair experience.

Observation

All of the things I had imagine in my head are true in essence. You are surrounded by people who could give you a job, however they don’t have to know it. The best advice I got about going to career fairs comes in two parts, first go to as many as you can but just observe the first one. So I went into that room and I just walked around and observed. I didn’t dress up, and I stayed out of conversation reach of the people at the booths. The big scary employers are actually just people, at least in this setting.

I also noticed that it is much easier to strike up a conversation in this setting than to do a formal interview. For starters sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to go into much detail about yourself if several people are at the same booth. That can be a good thing if you aren’t even sure what the company does… or if you are scared to death. In these cases it is best to observes the employer representative and other people interacting with her. However, if on the other hand you really want to leave a mark here is a great time to pull out the elevator pitch you have been practicing.

ele ptich
Interview on the spot

Elevator pitch not ringing a bell? I was clueless myself. As it turns out this is a handy tool for situations like this, as well as the more common situations where you somehow end up talking to someone at an event, on the subway, or say…in an elevator who just may be have a link to a great opportunity. In these instances you want to be ready to sell yourself in a quick, well thought out series of sentences that can be delivered in the time it takes for the elevator to reach the next stop. You can find more thorough information on crafting your elevator pitch here.

By the time I left that first career fair I had decided I could at least enter into the deep waters without drowning (a big step for an anxious introvert like myself). The key was to come prepared to speak directly with the people representing hiring companies, but realize that there is plenty to learn even if you pass on talking to everyone.

Research

This is the watching with purpose option. If the setting seems to crowded or you find yourself tongue-tied the experience can still be productive. Here are some ways you can still learn from a career fair if you aren’t ready to start handing out résumés.

  • Pay attention to how people approach the booths. Are they forceful, hesitant, assertive?
  • Gather information on the companies present. Research the companies more at home.
  • Keep track of people who seem to do well at several booths. What are they doing that seems to attract multiple representatives?
  • Try to connect with others who are job hunting. The contact may become part of your network in the future.

Engagement

On my next career fair visit I came prepared to get some first hand experience engaging the people at these booths. The first thing I noticed was that the representatives are all looking for something different. You may not have the education, experience, or skills they are after…that shouldn’t stop you. If you can create a dialogue out of this exchange ask about the companies values, or how that person got connected with them. The best situation leads to a job, but networking can be useful too…sometimes for even longer than that job placement.

For the most part career fairs are a great place to hone your pitch and practice interacting with professionals in an informal setting. Just remember to keep your eyes open for any opportunity to leave your mark…because you never know where your next career move will come from.

Sources:

Brown, Lawrese. “A quick guide to writing your elevator pitch (with examples!)”. Idealist Careers. 28 April 2015. Web. 29 March 2016.

Diamond, Erica. “How to Create Your Elevator Pitch”. YouInc. Digital Photography. 2 Dec 2015. Web. 29 March 2016.

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