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How to Rock a Career Fair

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Collegiate Career Expo. I experienced both sides of the table; employer and student/job seeker. This year’s event was held in the Marriott hotel in downtown Indianapolis. It’s a great venue, with delicious coffee and tea!

After registering as a student, I was given a self-adhesive name tag and a map of the different employer booths. The self-adhesive tag would eventually become my enemy. It would constantly pull my hair out and at one point it relocated itself to the back of my arm. My advice is to purchase a plastic sleeve for name badges. This way you can insert the one they give you and clip it into place.

My next piece of advice for students is to find a spot before entering the fair, if possible, and study the map of employers. In this case, there were student lounge areas in the hallway outside of the main event. Take this opportunity to create a plan of action and know which employers you’d like to visit. If the event provides a list of employers beforehand, you should research the organizations you’re interested in.

Depending on the size of the event and the time you arrive, it could be crowded and may seem a bit overwhelming. Remember to stick to the employers you’re most interested in, but still acknowledge the other employers.

Pay attention to your surroundings. I unknowingly walked into the employer’s lounge to get coffee. Even though I was wearing both hats (employer and student), it’s important to pay attention to signage. If you’re seen eating the employer-only lunch by someone you just talked to, it could leave the wrong impression.

Switching to the employer perspective, I was impressed by many young professionals that I spoke with. Every person was well-dressed (business professional attire), polite and friendly. One thing that stood out to me was there were quite a few people bringing along a buddy. If you’re a shy person, I would recommend trying this method. A word of caution though, don’t be overpowered by your partner. You need to introduce yourself, and if there are two people at the employer booth consider talking to one individually.

career fair pic

After you’ve initiated the conversation with an employer, it’s important to tell them what you’re looking for. Don’t make the mistake of saying you’re interested in non-profit work, when it’s a global financial corporation. If you aren’t sure of what you’re looking for, be broad and say you’re interested in an internship to get your feet wet.

You should be prepared with printed copies of your resume. Bonus points if you bring along a portfolio! Almost every employer I spoke with asked me for a resume. If they don’t ask you, you should politely ask if they would accept it. Most employers will write the position you’re interested in and may write notes to remember you by. I personally didn’t think of bringing a portfolio, but I saw a few students who did.

Once the conversation is drawing to a close, you should thank the employer for their time. Thank them by name (most often they’re wearing name tags, too) and shake their hand. Don’t squeeze the life out their hand by being too firm, but don’t wimp out either. A good balance of firm and gentle is key. Remember to look into their eyes as you shake their hand.

Almost every employer had promotional materials at their tables. Some had sunglasses, bottle openers, candy and other gadgets. I wasn’t brave enough to experiment with this concept, but what do you think about taking these items? Does it make you seem less professional and more interested in free stuff? Comment below!


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