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Hattie Hynes is a Recruiting/HR Marketing Intern with Milliner & Associates. She will graduate from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in 2018.

I went to a career fair last fall as a college sophomore. I was nervous, terrified, uncomfortable, and sweaty the entire time I was there and even worse, I had no idea what to expect. The good news is that my friend that made me go had already visited our IUPUI Kelley School of Business career advisor and asked about career fair etiquette. So now I was equipped with a little bit of secondhand preparation from my friend and a resume. No professional experience whatsoever, not even admitted to the Kelley School of Business yet, I went… blissfully unaware of what I was walking into. I would have liked to have been more prepared but hey, it was fine!

I have that career fair to thank for my current internship (HR Marketing & Employee Engagement Intern with Milliner & Associates) so I guess my performance wasn’t too terrible.

Fun fact: the only time I skipped class that semester was to go to that career fair (totally worth it. Sorry, professor).

An actual photo of me at the career fair last fall.

Since I got my foot in the door at a career fair and landed the internship because of it, it seemed only fitting that I attended one to represent my employer and see the fair from the other side of the table. And, it was a very different experience. I was still begging for someone to talk to me, but this time I was the one who had the job and wanted high-quality candidates to fill it. It was the same players and the same game, but I was playing in a totally different position.

Through those two experiences, I’ve learned a couple of things about being a candidate at a job fair. I’d like to share them so hopefully you won’t make some of the mistakes that I did. Here we go, you’re about to become a career fair pro:

Okay, number one is obvious but needs to be said regardless: dress up! This is your first impression. Make sure you look clean and appropriate. The rule of thumb is to wear business professional attire. You want to wear something that you feel confident in and that looks professional. +10 points if you feel comfortable, too.

Bring at least 30 copies of your resume, if not more… and while we’re talking about it, perfect your resume. Somewhere, somehow, you probably know someone who knows a thing or two about resumes. Enlist their help! They will probably be happy to give you a few tips. Colleges have entire departments focused on career development and if you’re already in the workforce, you probably know a recruiter who can help you with the basics. Don’t be afraid to ask! You are going to be handing it out to every booth that you walk up to, so it should be a good representation of you. This brings us to our next point:

Walk up to as many booths as you can. There’s a lot of value in practicing how you walk up to employers and conduct yourself professionally. The experience of walking up to numerous tables and talking to lots of different people is invaluable. One of those random companies may even have what you’re looking for and you didn’t know it (that’s what happened to me!).

It’s okay to take the free stuff. My first go-around, I was really scared that I would look greedy if I grabbed too much of the company’s cool swag. Now I know that more often than not, the companies want to get rid of the stuff they brought… that’s what it’s there for. Some of them even hand out bags to carry all your free stuff in. Embrace your inner college student and take the free stuff, but be friendly about it. Translation: don’t just walk up to the table, grab the stuff and leave. Have a conversation with them and don’t be afraid to admit that you’re only there for their cool stuff.

Practice your elevator pitch beforehand. You need to impress from the second that you walk up to the booth and open your mouth. If you can identify who you are and what you’re looking for in 30 seconds, it’s going to show that you can concisely summarize and articulate complex concepts; a very important skill for the workplace. This also shows that you are aware of their busy schedule and don’t want to waste their time trying to pull information out of you.

 I hope this helps for all those internship-seekers out there who are thinking about going to a career fair! If I could leave you with any piece of advice, it’s this: just go. Even if you’re not looking for an internship or job, you’ll meet new people who could potentially help you out later and get some free stuff. You never know, you just might find exactly what you’re looking for.

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