02 Sep 10 Biggest Career Fair Mistakes
School has started. While you still have a full year of school ahead of you, NOW is the time to start networking for your summer internship or first job if you’ll be graduating.
A fantastic and super-convenient way to network towards the job you want is by attending your school’s career fair. This will likely be the only time in your career where several employers are showing up on your doorstep with the intent to hire you, so take advantage of that!
Based on my experiences at college career fairs and from feedback from employers, here are some of the most common mistakes students make when trying to network at a career fair:
10 Biggest Career Fair Mistakes
- Not dressing professionally. Don’t wander in there after class in your basketball shorts and Birkenstocks (ok…guilty). This is a HUGE opportunity, take 30 minutes to put on professional clothes and give the impression that you really care about your career.
- Knowing nothing about the company ahead of time. Colleges publish a list of exhibitors before the career fair. Your responsibility is to look at this list ahead of time and research the companies that you are interested in speaking with. If for some reason your college does not publish this list or reveal this information. Do one “quick sweep” of the career fair then take some time to yourself to research the companies before approaching them.
- No resume. Showing up to a career fair without a resume is like showing up to a college bar without an ID. There’s no point. Take some time to put together a thorough and professional resume and print it on fancy paper. The return on investment of doing this is enormous. This should be a “no-brainer”.
- Poorly written resume. Having a resume is not enough. A poorly written resume or one that doesn’t tell the right story of exactly who that employer wants to hire can actually count against you. Be sure to take the time to write a resume that would get you an “A” in Business Communication and have someone look over it to provide feedback ahead of time.
- Just dropping off a resume. VERY IMPORTANT: Your mission at a career fair is NOT to simply “drop off your resume”. Don’t do this! You could just as easily apply online if that’s what you want to do. Your mission is to make a positive first impression, stand out (in a good way), and DETERMINE WHERE YOU GO FROM THERE to getting hired with the company. Don’t leave that last step out.
- Not seeming interested. I’m always amazed at how common this mistake happens. Do not assume that because you are there the employer knows that you are interested. The problem with how accessible employers are at career fairs, EVERYONE is wandering up to them to “check them out”. You need to make sure you show them that you are there to talk to them specifically and that you genuinely want to work for that company.
- Walking away without knowing the next steps. Along the same lines as #5, most of your peers will walk up, drop off a resume, try to have a good conversation, and then leave. DON’T leave without finding out what you can do next in order to get a job with the firm.
- Talking their ear off trying to sell yourself. You will likely not talk yourself into a job at the career fair. In fact, this is just going to annoy the employer and show a lack of self-awareness and common courtesy. You should attempt to have a good conversation that has a mix of questions and answers, and connect on a personal and professional level. But if you notice you are taking up a lot of their time or if they start to look around or end the conversation, you need to yield their time to other candidates.
- Not standing out in a positive way. What is your unique competitive advantage over your peers? What value can you offer them that most other people at the career fair cannot? You don’t want to bombard them with a sales pitch, but naturally inserting key messages that show you stand out in a positive way can be very effective.
- Not following up! The critically important step at the career fair is to establish initial contact (get on their radar), and find out where you can go from there to get hired. This theme is showing up multiple times in this article for a reason (#5 & #7). You absolutely MUST follow up after the career fair. Most of your peers will not do this and it will likely be what gives you the best shot to getting hired. Maybe this is getting the recruiter’s email address or physical address and following up with a note, maybe this is filling out an application, perhaps even a phone call. Leave with a plan to FOLLOW UP!
This may be a lot to remember, so for simple guidelines about how not to make these 10 mistakes, keep the following career fair objectives in mind:
- Leave a positive 1st Impression
- Stand out (in a good way)
- Determine the next step(s) and FOLLOW UP!
I hope this helps you successfully make the most of your career fair this school year. Let me know how it goes!