I attended a career fair yesterday. It was a wondrous place. Euphoria hung heavy in the air. Oversized signage, cool swag, and brown-nosing abounded. Happy, official-looking folks were vying for my attention, shaking my hand, giving me glossy pamphlets, and otherwise luring me into their candidate pool. They were telling me how absolutely wonderful their company is. A few times, I almost got wrangled into being a scout camp counselor or a tour guide at some shady-looking resort (both of which, I may add, are not in my career plans at all).

Nevertheless, unlike in past years, I went in there with a plan and a lot of research. I fought through the gauntlet of glad-handing. I rejected the flashy swag and signage. I told those smiling people, "Sorry, not interested." I got to the companies I was interested in, and I took care of business. Much to my satisfaction, I left with two scheduled interviews and another three prospects.
What made the difference, you ask? Preparation, preparation, preparation, and a little discipline. Following are the five steps I followed to get ready to sack the career fair and take maximum spoilage:
Knowledge | Online Education1. Know what you want.
The best single way to avoid getting pulled in by all those siren voices is to know beforehand what kind of internship or job you want. This means choosing your ideal position and industries. It also helps to decide where you would like to live or which areas you would like to avoid altogether.
Beware: don't go for some jobs, industries, or locations just because they have greater glamour or sex appeal. New York, New York, for instance, is perhaps the sexiest location of them all for young up-and-comers. But, let's face it: not everyone is cut out for the busy, claustrophobic metropolis that is New York. Similarly, not everyone is cut out to be a stock broker, a fashion journalist, or, in my case, a scout camp counselor.
Set a realistic goal for what job you want in what industry and in what part of the world.
Research | Adult Online Classes2. Research who is hiring for what you want.
Once you've nailed down what you are looking for, it's time to sift through the companies that will attend the career fair and see whose needs best match your goal. This might take some time on the internet, looking at job descriptions and requirements.
As you research, three categories will emerge: 1) jobs that you don't want; 2) jobs that you want and can do; and 3) jobs that you want but are out of your league. Discard the first category. Prepare heavily for the second category. Be prepared to take on the third category, just in case you're feeling extra bold.
In those jobs you want, take note of the key characteristics they are looking for, maybe being a self-starter, a team player, an innovator, etc. These are the key points you will want to emphasize in your resume and when you meet the recruiters.
Resume | Online Programs3. Tweak your resume accordingly.
This probably isn't the first time you've worked your resume, and it probably won't be the last. Resumes take on special importance at career fairs. They are the bullet in your gun. You carry it around. You walk up to your target company, introduce yourself, make some small talk, ask a few brilliant questions, and then, BAM! You hit them with your resume.
Therefore, your resume has to be flawless. It has to address the questions they have when looking for candidates. It has to echo all of those key characteristics you discovered during your research so they can scan the page and see, BAM! BAM! BAM! All of their criteria are being met.
There is a marked difference in their faces when they get a sharp, brilliantly crafted resume compared to when they get a vague stinker. Their faces light up when they get a great resume. They hold it, make notes on it, and neglect all those people standing behind you in line. When they get a stinker, they can't hide their initial shock and then the uneasiness of trying to break it to you kindly. Make sure your resume goes straight to the heart by addressing those key characteristics, and they will be delighted to speak with you.
Clothing | Classes & Careers4. Dress for success.
Too many people are just hanging out in t-shirts and grubby jeans. They may be an accounting genius, but they look like a pot dealer. At career fairs, with all the other prospects swarming around, you need to make an immediate impression. Dressing up sends all the right messages: you are professional, clean, dependable, and well grounded. You don't need to dress like you're going to winter formal, but your dress should say that you are savvy, knowledgeable, and ready to go to work.
For men, this means a clean button-up shirt, dress pants, tidy hair, and polished shoes. The use of ties varies from one industry to another. The larger, more corporate organizations, especially those in the East will tend toward ties. Less structured, more entrepreneurial organizations have largely rejected the tie.
For women, business suits are great unless you are looking for something less corporate.
Bee | Online Colleges5. Make a bee line for your targets.
As stated above, it can be very difficult to get sucked into the glamour of the career fair. When you step up to the threshold of the room, scan it carefully for your targets. Maybe get a map and mark your targets. Once you've got your course set, head straight for them. Don't talk to anyone else. Don't accept anyone else's swag. Don't stop to wonder what it be like to work for Milo's House of Cheddar. Go straight for your targets and handle your business.
Be brilliant. Be humble. Be funny and smart. Ask smart questions. Hit them with the resume. Secure some kind of commitment from them. Give them a firm handshake and move on to the next target.
Once you've checked off all your targets, you are then free to check out the other booths, collect swag, etc. But keep your wits about you. Keep your goal in mind. Above all, have fun!
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One comment on “Navigating the Career Fair

  • Don’t stop to wonder what it be like to work for Milo’s House of Cheddar. Go straight for your targets and handle your business.

    Be brilliant. Be humble. Be funny and smart. Ask smart questions. Hit them with the resume. Secure some kind of commitment from them. Give them a firm handshake and move on to the next target.
    Good advice!!

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