How to make the most out of a university career fair

For some this may be your first career fair, for others this may be your last. Everyone is there either to hire or to get hired so you’ll have to find ways to stand out. (This is catered towards engineering/tech but also provides universal advice.) It’s never too early to go to your university career fair, even if you’re a freshman and not even looking for a job yet. Now’s the perfect time to see what companies are looking for so you can become that over time.

Large companies will send representatives here to swipe top talent, they most likely won’t accept your resume when you hand it to them but will ask you to sign up online from their sign up tablet. I suspect each sign up from that tablet marks the candidate as being from that university and thus giving the candidate a higher chance of being selected. If you want to get noticed by a large company then it depends less on being remembered and more on having a resume better than your peers.

Small companies might send representatives but most of the time will send someone of decision making power. Sometimes the CEO/president/founder will show up in order to gauge the current landscape of hires. What you want to do is research them immensely before hand and try to be as memorable as possible when speaking to them. At the conclusion of your career fair chat with them, ask if they have the time to later to discuss the company and any opportunities. Most of the time they will say yes and have you sign up for what is essentially an interview slot. Sometimes I’ve only gotten interviews because I asked for them. It’s hard to do intensive research on many companies so it’s advised that you only go after a handful that you are really interested in.

Don’t feel pressure to stay the whole time, career fairs can last upwards of six hours at some universities and there’s no point staying later to talk to companies that you haven’t heard of or researched. You do want to get there as early as possible though before all their interview slots get filled up. Ideally, you would have a list of all the companies that will be there so you can pick and choose which ones you really want to work at. Don’t talk to those companies first. Especially if you’re nervous or this is your first career fair, talk to a random company that you don’t care much for first, in fact talk to three. This helps settle you into the “career fair” mind set and helps you get comfortable with your “tell me about yourself” elevator pitch (or realize that you don’t have one). Once you feel comfortable then go talk to the companies that you really want, just think of the first three companies as practice rounds.

The “So, tell me about yourself” / “Hi my name is” Elevator Pitch Template:

Hi, my name is _____ and I am studying ____. I graduate in ____ and my strongest skills are in ___, ____, and ____. I also have experience in ____ … ____. I have worked at ___ doing ___ as well as working on ____ in my free time. If you would like I can go further into detail in any part of my resume. [Optional: I am particularly interested in your company’s _____ product/department and I think that ____, I am very passionate about that technology and would love the chance to work with it.] I am seeking a job/internship for the ____ time period, does your company have any openings for that time?

Resumes, resumes, resumes

You will need a good resume in order to get a call back, as a student and especially as a freshman you may think that you don’t have anything to put on your resume. Think again. Although you may have no work experience, barely started learning your major, and generally have no idea what you’re doing there’s still a chance for you to add some meat to your resume. You can put if you have leadership in a club, have done relevant work volunteering, tried a startup business, or any other side project.

Having personal projects or side projects can save you when you have no work experience (or you partied too much and your grades are down the drain) and they don’t have to be super difficult either. Sure they can be but it’s up to you how long you want them to take. Some projects can be weekend projects and some may take months or years, some you may keep working on after you graduate. For now, start with a weekend project and build on that. As for ideas, don’t pick something that you think they want to see, pick something you’re interested in or there’s no way you’re going to find the will power to work on it and finish it. Any interest can be turned into a memorable side project, in fact the weirder it is the more memorable you’ll be (keep it safe for work of course).

You ever have those ideas that pop into your head randomly and you think to yourself “This is the greatest idea ever” and then you kinda forget about it but you remember you had this idea but what was it again? Always write your ideas down, no matter how silly, you might find later that it makes for the perfect weekend project to put boost your resume. Extra brownie points if the final product is available on some app store or you document the process online.

All in all, treat a career fair like a great opportunity to see what the world is about. Most universities have one career fair every semester so it’s a great place to polish your professional bantering so to speak and to see what you can become. As a freshman, no pressure, go check it out, talk to a recruiter and even ask for resume advice. As a sophomore or junior you might be more inclined to search for an internship and here’s the perfect place to get your foot in the door. As a senior it’s time to take the big leap towards finding a full time job, hopefully you’ve been going the past three years and have a handle on things. Talking to a recruiter face to face and handing them your resume is a billion times more effective than blindly applying to random companies online. It’s something that a LOT of people older than you still wish they had.

Additional Tips:

  1. Be friendly and open to criticism, don’t be afraid to show your resume to people and ask for advice. We all look back on our first resume and cringe a little, it’s a good thing.
  2. Keep in contact with the recruiters you connect with. In the next few years they might move to a company that you really want to work for so it’ll be nice to have connections when you need it. Follow up with them every few months and relay what you’ve been up to while asking about them as well.
  3. Don’t ignore your professors, befriend them no matter how awkward you may feel. They’re there because they ultimately want to help you (trust me, they could get way higher salaries in a commercial company) so get to know them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to try new things, this could be trying ballet, lifting weights, building a boat, or any other interesting thing. It’s these odd but interesting tidbits about you that make you memorable, especially if you create a relevant project about it and put it on your resume.
  5. Ask for business cards and keep track of the ones you’re interested in, you can then email them with a follow up question or thank you just to make you top of mind again.

Don’t take it too seriously, we all have had bad experiences at some point in terms of finding an internship/job and we may even feel just a tiny/overwhelming sensation of desperation and “I’m not good enough”s and it’s okay. Pretty much everyone gets hired at some point eventually, you’re not gonna go your whole life without a job. And ignore Facebook and people posting their “Omg, so proud to announce I just got hired!!!”, they were as desperate and as scared too, and they probably didn’t negotiate their pay like they should have, you’re going to negotiate your pay right? Never take the first offer.



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