College Students: 10 Ways to Connect With Companies at Career Fairs

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It’s that time of year! Back to college, first day of classes, new student week, parties…. and career fairs. Many colleges and universities host career fairs early in the school year. Companies in several industries have moved up the recruiting calendar for post grad full time hiring and summer internships. You may think that online recruiting is replacing career fairs. We are happy to report that career fairs are alive and well, nationwide and across industries. They are still an extremely effective way for companies to source candidates and for students to get noticed by these recruiting companies.

So how can you stand out among a sea of potential hires? Here are 10 ways to get noticed and recruited at career fairs:

Do Your Homework and Research Companies and Reps

Your school career office will post a list of companies attending the career fair and may also list names of company reps. Gather intelligence before the fair. Check out the companies’ websites, google the companies, look up the reps on LinkedIn (although don’t connect yet). Go into the fair as an informed prospective hire. Use Jobtreks to make a list of your target companies and keep track of your intel. Divide your list into three categories – very interested, interested, and learn more.

Email Reps From Companies That Interest You BEFORE the Career Fair

Reach out before the fair to introduce yourself. This gives the recruiter a chance to peek at your resume before the hectic day. It’s also a great way to demonstrate real interest in the company.

Plan Your Time at the Career Fair

This is like making a shopping list before you go to the grocery store. If you go without a plan, you wind up buying a bunch of things you don’t need and forgetting what you came to the store for. Go to the companies on your target list first. Once you have stopped by those company booths, then feel free to ‘browse the aisles’ and chat with companies that spark your interest. Many career fairs have apps. Download the app for your school’s career fair and use it to plan your time.

Get There Early

This is a well kept secret about career fairs. Before the fair starts, company reps are setting up their tables. Get there as early as possible to be one of the first to visit a booth. Try not to get to the fair at the end. By then, most reps are tired and rushing out the door.

Don’t Follow the Herd

At every career fair, there are companies with long lines of students waiting to speak with the reps. Often, students join the line simply because it seems like the place to be. These companies may be terrific places to work, but use your time wisely. Focus on YOUR list of targeted companies. Besides, when a company is bombarded with students, the rep from that company may feel overwhelmed and therefore, not remember any one candidate. Be open-minded to companies without lines of students. Some of the best companies fly under the radar at career fairs.

Bring Paper Resumes

Come to the fair with a stack of printed resumes ready to distribute. This may seem old school, but it enables the rep to match your face with a resume and jot down notes. Plan on also sending your resume attached to a follow-up thank you note.

Treat the Conversation With the Rep as a Mini-Interview

You will probably only have 2-3 minutes max to speak with the rep. But one of the main reasons that companies still spend the time and resources to attend career fairs is they get a (very brief) peek at potential candidates in person. Every interaction with a company is an opportunity for the company to assess you. Use this to your advantage. Prepare a quick elevator pitch to introduce yourself – the 60 second answer to “Tell me about yourself.” Follow up with an equally quick reason you are interested in the company. This is where your research comes in.

Be Respective of the Company Rep’s Time

On one hand, you want to interact with the rep as long as possible. On the other hand, you don’t want to monopolize the rep’s time, especially if there is a line of students waiting. Prepare a “get-away” line that graciously allows the rep to move to the next student, such as “Thank you for your time, I know there is a line waiting to speak with you. Can I get your card and follow up with you by email? Don’t forget to get the business card.

Jot Down Notes on Conversations With Company Reps

One of the best ways to differentiate yourself in a follow up email is to refer back to something specific discussed. The best way to remember these ‘tidbit’ conversations is to write down the notes. Use your Jobtreks account to help you quickly add the company rep (with contact info from his/her card) and personalized notes from your conversation.

Follow up Same Day

Send a follow up email that same day. Refer back to your conversation, express interest in the company, attach your resume, and ask to set up a coffee chat or phone call. This is how many companies source their candidates. Don’t wait to send this email. Besides being fresh on the reps’ minds, you are sending the message that this company is important to you. Happy job hunting!