Publicis Health’s Lori DePace and Margaret Dryden with Otto the Orange at a 2017 Career Fair at Syracuse University.

Mastering the Art of Career Fairs

By Margaret Dryden, Early Careers Coordinator, Publicis Health

“Deep breaths, shoulders back, and smile wide.”

These were the words that I would say to myself back in the days when I was a job candidate going to career fairs. Ask any eager job seeker and they will likely tell you that there’s nothing more terrifying than walking into a crowded conference hall or school gymnasium decked out with jazzy tabletop displays and intimidating-looking employers in suits at a college career fair.

Knowing that the recruiters you’re about to meet may hold your career fate in their hands can be nothing less than paralyzing. I remember my mind going completely blank before each introduction to a recruiter at a career fair, and desperately thinking to myself, “How can I impress them? How can I convince them to hire me?”

Oh, how times have changed. Today, I work as an Early Careers Coordinator at Publicis Health, and now I have become that intimidating-looking recruiter on the other side of the table. Over the past two years in my position, I have spoken to thousands of hopeful students at university career fairs all across the country. Even though I feel as though I have mastered the art of working a career fair, I still think of my college days and wish I could go back in time to tell my 21-year-old self everything that I know now.

Since time travel is (currently) impossible, I’d like to offer some tips to help you master the art of maximizing your experience at your next college career fair…

Always be early.

As the adage goes, the early bird gets the worm — and gets to meet the most engaged recruiters. Career fairs are long days and recruiters often talk to hundreds of students over the span of four hours. By the end of the day, recruiters are completely drained and students’ faces and their credentials start to blur together. By arriving at the very start of a career fair, you will get to meet recruiters while they are fresh and they will have their full attention on you.

Wear something that stands out.

I’m not saying don’t wear a suit, tie or nude heels. After all, I’m an advocate for dressing appropriately at career fairs! Still, it’s worthwhile to consider wearing a single item that’s memorable. It could be a polka-dot tie or a pop-of-color necklace. Career fairs aren’t fashion runways, but they are an opportunity for you to make your first impression with a prospective employer. With recruiters meeting so many students, wearing something that stands out is a small but effective way for you to be noticed among a sea of black and white professional outfits.

Make an initial trip around the entire room when you first arrive.

Take a look at what organizations are present and where your favorites are located so that you can start making a game plan for which tables you want to stop at. Getting a lay of the land and walking off some of your nerves also will help get you more comfortable before your first conversation.

Spot the company that is at the bottom of your list, then go there first.

It may sound like a waste of time, but getting your first interaction with a recruiter out of the way will work wonders, particularly if the stakes are low. Rip off the Band-Aid. You will start to get the hang of your personal pitch , which questions to ask, and how the flow of other conversations will go. Plus, there’s no pressure if you mess up since this isn’t one of your favorite organizations.

Start off the conversation with something random.

That’s right, I said random. Some of the best conversations that I’ve had at career fairs are the ones that are different from the rest. Whether a student asked me how my day was going, inquired about how I got into my own career or simply complimented my outfit, those conversations were always the most memorable. A bit of randomness can break the ice between an employer and a student, and makes the interaction much more relaxed.

Don’t be afraid to stop by employers that you haven’t heard of.

If you are doing career fairs right, you are being strategic and targeted when deciding which tables to stop by. Researching companies ahead of time can make all the difference so that you aren’t roaming around aimlessly and sweating from the stress of all the conversations. Even if a company doesn’t have the big reputation that other companies may have, they are there seeking out talent to hire. Never rule out a “no-name” organization — you never know where a job could come from.

So, there it is. Everything I have learned from being on the other side of the table. Even though I know I can’t ease all of the nerves that could arise from an ominous career fair that you may be attending this fall or spring, I hope my words of advice can serve as good starting points to help alleviate some of your fears. My 21-year-old self never got the benefit of these insider tips, but I like to think that she would feel differently about walking through those scary career fair doors if she only knew some of what I know today.

Now, go get ’em!

Margaret Dryden has worked her way up at Publicis Health over the past two years, starting as an intern in the summer of 2015 to working on the Early Careers team after her graduation in January 2016. She has become a people development expert through her help in leading the Publicis Health Summer Internship Program, along with managing some of the campus recruitment efforts across the country. Margaret also serves as a national co-lead and founder for Publicis Groupe’s business resource group, GenNEXT, which is dedicated to developing young professionals and supporting the organization’s next generation of talent by providing guidance, empowerment, and specialized resources to young professionals across the entire network. Connect with Margaret via LinkedIn.

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