Preparing for career fairs can be stressful, especially if you don’t have much experience networking and applying for jobs. At AIFP, we’re proud to count ourselves among the many great companies that hire recent grads. In fact, we’re frequent attendees of the University of Oregon Career Fair, the Oregon State University Career Fair, and the Portland State University Career Fair. In today’s blog, we offer some helpful career fair advice that will help you stand out among employers. Here’s how to prepare for a career fair the right way.
When you’re preparing for a career fair, you don’t need to have a “perfect job” in mind. In fact, coming in completely set on what you’re looking for could prevent you from learning about opportunities you hadn’t considered. But you should ask yourself what kinds of opportunities are most appealing to you and why. The more you know about your interests and expectations, the better. Not only will this help you have more confident conversations with potential employers, but it will help you weed out positions that may not be what you are looking for.
One of the best ways to prepare for a career fair at your college is to research who’s attending. This information is often available through your career center, and it gives you a chance to learn a little bit about any company or position that catches your eye. Not only will it help you create a plan for which potential employers to talk to, but it may impress the recruiter having some knowledge about their company. By having some background knowledge of the company, it helps showcase interest in the positions available as well as help you formulate productive questions to ask.
When you’re preparing for a career fair, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the companies attending the event, but that is why it is important to have some questions prepared so you are better able to manage your time and the time of others. Because you took the time to prep your questions, not only do you effectively manage your time and gain productive insight, but it can also make you a more memorable candidate to companies if you are seriously looking to apply. Now it is okay not to be totally prepared, for you do want your questions to feel natural and your conversations to feel genuine, but a little bit of preparation can go a long way when you are looking for something that speaks to you.
Not sure what kind of questions to ask at a career fair? Start with anything you’re curious about. Because you’re getting a chance to talk to a real-life recruiter or team member that actually works at the company, you’ll be able to learn a lot more than you could from a website. Ask them what they like about their job, what an average day would look like, what the company culture is like, what challenges they face etc. Ask about training and mentorship opportunities, opportunities for growth, and about the products, services, or industry they work in. If you’re planning to actually apply for the position, ask about what the hiring process looks like and if they have any advice for you. Remember, you want to find a job that’s a great fit for you, so don’t be afraid to ask whatever questions you have. That’s what they’re there for.
Before attending a career fair, you’ll want to make sure your resume is updated. Not only does updating your resume allow you to present the most up-to-date version of yourself, but it also makes sure that all of your different experiences and skills are top-of-mind when you’re talking to potential employers. Make sure you print out 10-20 copies so that you can hand them out to interested parties.
Another great tip is to make sure your LinkedIn profile is active and up to date. Many companies have a LinkedIn profile nowadays and offer direct hiring from their pages. Connect with the companies you are interested in, grow your network, and get discovered. Companies are always looking for great candidates on LinkedIn so make sure you have all your information up to date!
Wondering what to wear to a career fair on campus? While you don’t need a pant suit or tux when looking for a career, you can really stand out amongst others by dressing in a professional and put-together way. Aim to wear well-fitting business casual attire without wrinkles, holes, stains, or scuffs.
While professional clothing can often be expensive, especially on a student budget, you can put together a great look with simple items that may be in your everyday wardrobe. For example, a dark wash jean (no holes), a plain dark color or saturated colored shirt (sometimes a little tuck of the shirt paired with a belt can really improve the look), either a cardigan, sweater, or light jacket (typically ones without a hood) and a solid pair of closed toed shoes will do just fine. Many companies over the years have relaxed their dress codes, but first impressions are often the most memorable moments, so it is important to remember that a little bit of extra effort in your wardrobe could earn you a great first impression amongst these visiting companies.
You may also consider borrowing something from a friend, shopping at a thrift store, or checking to see if your career center lends out professional clothing for students a who can’t afford a new outfit. There are still some companies that do have a professional dress code, so take the time to do your research and try to find if the company you are interested has a more business professional attire. If so, it may be worth it to gather a few items such as a nice button-down collared shirt or a nice blouse. After all if this is a company you want to work for, it would be an investment for your future work attire.
On the day of the career fair, try to amp yourself up so you can be your most energetic, confident self. You might call a friend, parent, or trusted mentor to give you a pep talk, read through positive feedback you’ve received in the past, or listen to music that makes you feel upbeat. If you’re particularly nervous, try to organize your day so that you can get in a workout, a meditation session, or whatever else helps calm your nerves so that you can present as your best self.
Just remember that career fairs are a chance for you to not only present yourself to potential employers, but also a chance for you to research and gather intel on potential companies you may want to work for. This is an opportunity to make conversation, so keep it natural and just enjoy getting to meet new people and learn new things.
Now that you know how to prepare for a career fair, be sure to check out some of our other helpful resources for recent college grads, including job search tips, business email etiquette tips, and what it’s like to work at AIFP. You can also learn more about our one-of-a-kind paid trader training program.
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