This week, I had the opportunity to attend my first career fair representing Optimum7. During the fair, I learned a great deal about how students, job seekers, and other employers present themselves. Because of this experience, I’ve decided to use this week’s article to help others understand what they should and should not do at the next internship/employment fair they attend.
Although this seems fairly obvious, I would definitely like to mention it here. These types of events are held for the sole purpose of connecting employers with fresh talent. It is a professional environment – and you must dress the part.
While particular fields may call for more casual attire, a general rule of thumb is to dress as if you are going to a job interview. Ladies, that means leave the metallic mini skirts, low cut blouses, and leggings at home. As for the gentlemen, looking as if you just rolled out of bed or hopped off the treadmill won’t score you any points either.
There is an old saying – “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Think about this when picking out an outfit. Would you hire someone dressed like yourself?
Hygiene is Important
Again, obvious, however it is absolutely vital that you present yourself in a clean manner. If you have a somewhat sloppy – or worse, smelly – appearance, a potential employer may associate your lack of hygiene with a lack of organizational skills.
Shake Hands Like You Mean It
I have to say that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen potential candidates make time and again is the way they shake hands. Too often, I encounter those who suffer from what I like to call “wet noodle hands.” Wet noodle hands occur when an employer extends their hand and is met with a handful of what feels like al dente angel hair pasta.
Your handshake should be firm. Not bone-crushing enough to cause pain, but not dainty enough to cause confusion. Shake hands, make eye contact, and smile. You only get one first impression, and a handshake leads right into that.
When approaching an employer, do not make eye contact and then pass by. Be sure to make eye contact, continue on a path to speak to the employer and begin speaking. Once you make eye contact, you need to follow through – otherwise you’ll seem hesitant and unsure of yourself.
Do Your Research
Do not walk up to a booth at a career fair and say any of the following to the employer:
“I’ve never heard of you guys…”
“So what do you do?”
Firstly, you do not want to sound ignorant to an employer. You need to know what you’re talking about and convey it with confidence.
Secondly, many of these fairs provide brochures to their attendees prior to the event. This means that you have the opportunity to look over the employers, their websites, etc. There is no reason you should approach a table without knowing – or at least having an understanding of what the company does.
For the first hour or so of the career fair, I spoke with less than 10 people. For the remaining 3 hours, I probably spoke with over 200 people. By arriving early, you’ll beat out your competition, and have time to speak with a potential employer without feeling rushed or nervous.
You Have To Want It
Do not, I repeat, do not hand me your resume and say “I think you should take a look at this.” At most career fairs, attendees are in the thousands, with single employers speaking to hundreds of faces within a few hours. I do not have time to review your entire resume while you stand in front of me.
Instead, politely introduce yourself and start talking about why you feel you may be a good fit for the company. Briefly talk about relevant experience you may have and what you’d be looking for in a position. Be prepared to answer interview-style questions quickly and confidently.
Think of a career fair as the “speed-dating” of the professional world. You have limited time to present yourself in a professional manner and leave a lasting impression. You need to demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in the company, what they do, and potentially becoming employed. If not, you’ll likely be another face in the crowd.
As I mentioned above, it is very important to do more than just present a resume and walk away. Be prepared before you even walk up to the booth. Have a resume, business card, etc. ready without having to dig through a Hefty bag full of junk. Have a pen and paper handy so you can write down contact information or notes, so you can follow up after the event.
Stand Out – In a Good Way
In addition to being organized, it is important to present yourself in a memorable manner. This can be done through a creative resume or business card.
After a typical career fair, an employer can walk away with 500 or more resumes. The majority of which look exactly the same – white paper, black ink, name at the top, laundry list of qualifications.
Why not try something a bit different? Try a different shade of ink, or a sturdier paper.
Of course the industry you are hoping to branch into may limit this type of creativity, but I think that doing something a bit more unique – without completely going off the deep end, would be a welcome way to get noticed.
Speaking of Resumes
Be sure to bring plenty of resumes and business cards to hand out. You cannot split one resume between 300 companies.
Another important tip is to make sure your resume does not go over a page. An employer isn’t likely to review anything past the very first page of the resume. Be selective when deciding what goes on your resume and what doesn’t make the cut. Someone who reads your resume should be able to quickly scan for information and understand who you are, what you want to do, and why they should hire you.
As a final note on resumes, please be sure that all information is up to date, and there are no typos. A resume with grammar or spelling mistakes is almost always going to end up directly in the garbage. If you can’t take care of the simplest task of presenting yourself accurately on a resume, why would an employer think you’d be up to any other task?
Consider an Internship
Although I recently attended a career fair, I was astounded by the number of students who were looking for internship opportunities. This is a very impressive strategy. By beginning to look for internships while still in school, you’ll gain valuable experience as well as build your network of contacts. If you’re hardworking, efficient, and a little bit lucky, many companies even end up hiring their interns.
Negativity within a company is toxic. It only takes one negative thinker to bring down a whole group. So how do you demonstrate your positivity to a potential employer? Smile, make eye contact, and discuss positive aspects of your past experiences. Do not speak negatively about past employers or fellow candidates. Rather than putting others down, focus on highlighting why you’re a great prospect for the open position.
Since you’ve researched the companies you’ll be talking to, you should be able to easily come up with a few pertinent questions for each representative. Be sure not to ask any questions that can easily be figured out by visiting the website. Instead, opt for questions about the employer’s personal experience or work with the company. Asking specific questions demonstrates that you prepared prior to the event and shows your understanding and interest in the company.
Be Tech Savvy
This may be a bit more specific to our Internet and technology industry, but I think having a single URL where you can send people to learn about your skills, experiences, and publications is invaluable.
Don’t have a website? That’s all right – there are plenty of social networks that can help you cover the bases. LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter, and Behance are just a few examples of networks where you can interact with other professionals, take part in valuable discussions, or post recent work for others to review and enjoy.
Events such as career or internship fairs are used to provide an environment where employers and potential employees can meet and learn more about each other. It is important to understand that you must present yourself in a professional, friendly manner. You must be prepared to answer and ask questions throughout the event. By researching the companies that will be attending, creating a strategy, practicing your elevator speech, and following up after the event as directed, you are sure to make a lasting impression on employers you meet.
Interested in Optimum7’s internship or employment opportunities? Contact us today for more information on becoming a part of our team.