It’s often said that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. That’s definitely the way it goes at job fairs. On college campuses, where kids are eager to kick start their career after graduation, that first impression is vital.
It’s probably not too surprising how many people want to work in sports. My space at college job fairs is usually hopping with a lot of students interested in job or internship opportunities. When you scour the Web, you won’t find any shortage of advice on how to make the most of a job fair. If you’re a student, you really study up on this topic before your first fair. From my experience on the other side of the conversation, here are my top ten things a student can do to create a positive first impression.
1. Research Participating Companies
Take a look at the list of participating companies and prioritize the ones that you feel your major study area, skill set and existing experience may be a good fit for. Check out company Web sites to learn more about what they do, and always look to see if they currently have jobs or internships posted online. You should also read their news section to get all the latest information.
Katharine Brooks, executive director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, told BusinessInsider.com, “The No. 1 complaint from employers is that candidates simply didn’t1 take the time to learn about the company and its opportunities in advance.”
2. Prepare Your Resume(s)
There are two trains of thought here: Multiple copies of one resume, or copies of multiple resumes. You should straddle that line with a general resume you can widely distribute and specific resumes tailored to different roles. If you’re pursuing a job in communications, highlight your coursework in communications classes. If you’re after a job in marketing, the your resume with coursework in marketing classes. In my opinion, the moment you begin coursework in your major is the moment you begin your career. So discuss that work prominently when it is conducive to do so.
In addition, consider an addendum to your resume. Class projects can add significant weight to a student’s candidacy for a specific position. If you see a fit between a company’s need and a project you have done, share it at the job fair. Use this tactic with great discretion, though. I personally take to this very well, as many college students have yet to gain a depth of real-world job experience.
3. Dress Appropriately
Dress for the job fair, not for class. You may have classes before and after your stop at the job fair, but that’s no excuse to dress too casually. You don’t necessarily have to show up in your best suit, though. If you go with business formal or business casual attire you will be fine.
A great source on this is Heather Topham Wood for the Houston Chronicle. On business formal, Topham Wood notes, “Women can wear a skirt or pants suit with heels while men may wear a blazer or suit jacket, button down shirt, suit pants, a tie and dress shoes.” Topham Wood’s take on business casual: “Women typically wear a collared shirt or sweater with dress pants and dress shoes or boots. Conservative dresses and skirts are also acceptable attire. A man’s option for business casual includes a polo shirt, collared shirt or sweater. Khaki or dress pants along with dress shoes make up his business casual outfit. He does not need to wear a tie.”
4. Visit the Table First
Admittedly, this piece of advice really all depends on how the recruiter is utilizing his space. However, if you are able to, head straight for the table first. Most students are inclined to get in line to meet the recruiter right away. Doing this leaves too much on the table, pun intended. There are three things you want to look for: 1) company information such as brochures, 2) job descriptions of the needs they have, and 3) the recruiter’s business cards. Pick up these items, study them, and then wait for your turn.
This information, particularly the job descriptions, is key to maximizing your time with the recruiter. After visiting the table, then get in line. You’ll be better off and more informed if you take a moment to look over the material before approaching the recruiter.
5. Listen to the Conversation Ahead of You
If you’re in line waiting to speak with the recruiter, chances are you’re in tight quarters. Pay attention to the conversations the recruiter is having with the people before you. With any luck, you’ll get some of your own questions answered or you’ll be better equipped to ask deeper questions when you get your turn with the recruiter.
Personally, I often find myself answering the same basic questions multiple times. If you ask me questions with more substance, I’ll take note of you.
6. Greet the Recruiter With a Handshake
You may be eager to submit your resume to the recruiter, but do not greet them with your resume. All too often, students will approach me with an outstretched hand clutching a resume. Instead, keep your resume in your executive padfolio, and greet the recruiter with a professional handshake.
And, since you should have already grabbed his business card off the table, greet the recruiter by name. If you made it a point to know their name, they’ll likely make it a point to take mental note of yours.
7. Nail Your Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is perfect for answering the basic question, “Tell me about yourself.” Careerealism.com notes that an elevator pitch “needs to be under two minutes and should include some general background information, demonstrated leadership, and what you will bring to an organization.”
This pitch should be rehearsed beforehand, but not over rehearsed. As Larry Alton wrote for Entrepreneur.com, “Over-rehearsing your elevator pitch could ruin your chances of making a great first impression. When you practice too much, you become reliant on specific words and phrases, in a specific order, to the point you go on auto-pilot, and your prospect will likely notice.”
8. Relate Your Strengths
If you nail your elevator pitch, you should have given the recruiter a summary of your qualifications for a position with his company. From there you may expect a deeper discussion related to your strengths, particularly as they pertain to skills and experience. College students that are short on job experience can discuss the skills they picked up in the academic life or their strengths assessment results.
There is also an increasing interest in a candidate’s abstract skills. One of the most concise sources on this may be OutdoorIndustryJobs.com, where Nathan Newberger covers five “soft” skills including Organizational, Critical Thinking, Communication, Interpersonal and Multi-Tasking. You can expect the recruiter’s questions for you to fall in any one of those five camps, if not all of them.
9. Ask Questions
Ask the recruiter questions. The job fair is about finding a mutually good fit for an employer and you. Even if you’ve been able to ask a question here and there during your conversation with the recruiter, there’s still a great chance he’ll ask you at the end if you have any more questions for him. Be prepared for this, and have a question at the ready.
For BusinessInsider.com, Roach and Smith tackle this topic, noting, “You say, ‘no, not that I can think of,’ or ask something that could have easily been answered with a quick Google search — and just like that, everything falls apart. To avoid this situation, you should go to every job interview prepared with a few smart questions that will really impress the employer.” They cap their article with seven smart questions to ask.
10. Say Thanks
Always thank the recruiter for your conversation. I particularly notice when thanks is both from the student and on behalf of the school (if the job fair is on campus). This line of thanks stands out, “I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. We’re glad you’re here.”
A follow-up note is important, too. Send the recruiter another thank-you via email in the next 24-48 hours. In your message, draw upon a part of your conversation with the recruiter, reiterate your interest in the position and tell the recruiter why you feel you’re a good fit for the role. Also, attach a copy of your resume to your email.
First Edition: February 2016
This piece is filed under Student Section, a career advice series targeting young professionals still in college or just off the graduation platform. The series leans on my experience working with interns over the years, and bottles up the career issues I advise on most often.