With fall job fairs upon us, we want to help you get prepared so you can put that college degree to work as soon as you graduate. Many colleges hold career fairs, but who really knows how to make the most of them (i.e., do something besides just wander around aimlessly and maybe pick up a few business cards)? We’ve talked to a career counselor and two employers to give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about career fairs from both sides of the booth.
THE EXPERTS: Renee Welch, the Assistant Director for Career Development Counseling and Outreach at Colorado State University, has been a career counselor for five years. From the other side of the booth, Suzanne Sanderson, the Director of Selection and Marketing for Wealth Concepts, LLC and Ann Richardson, an area recruiter for Sherwin-Williams, have some tips to share with us HC girls.
Get the info: Welch says the questions you ask depend on the company you’re interviewing with, but that you should be asking questions that will determine whether or not the opportunity is a fit for you personally. If you’re interviewing for an internship, ask how you will be supervised and what you’ll learn. And whether it’s a job or an internship you’re looking for, ask about the best way to apply and make sure you take a business card so you can follow up. Sanderson says to make sure you ask the obvious questions like how much you’ll make, what the hours are and what would be expected of you in your position. But don’t stop there, ladies. Sanderson suggests digging a little deeper and finding out more about the culture of the company. “We don’t believe it makes someone happy to work for just money or just this or just that,” she says. Richardson laid out a few questions for you to ask recruiters that will help you delve a little deeper into the culture of a company:
- Why did you choose this career?
- What are some reasons that people are successful or unsuccessful in your company?
- Is there anything discouraging about this position or company?
“Interviewing is definitely a two-way process,” Richardson says. The company is trying to get information about you and you’re trying to get information about the company, so keep in mind that it’s a two-way street!
So, tell me about yourself: Don’t be afraid to brag a little here, ladies! Welch suggests giving an “elevator speech” about yourself. “You only have a short window of time to make a good first impression,” Welch says, so use it wisely. Richardson says this speech should be about 60 to 90 seconds long. Here are a few things our experts think you should include in your speech:
- Why you are a good fit for the company.
- What your strengths and interests are.
- Your college, major and special education that relates to the company.
- What you’re looking for in a company.
- Your past employment experience.
- Something you’ve accomplished in your life and how you did it.
- A few personal things about yourself.
Practice delivering it a couple times first, but don’t practice so much that it sounds uber-rehearsed!
Dress to impress: While we all look pretty when we dress up to go out, your Saturday night ensemble likely isn’t appropriate for a career fair. Here’s what our experts like to see: Welch recommends wearing either a pants or skirt suit. The skirts should be “a good length”(i.e., not too short) she says, and there shouldn’t be any high slits, no matter how much you might want to show off the last of your tan before it fades! With so many shoes out there, choosing the best pair is always a challenge. Welch says young women should wear shoes they look like they’ve conquered walking in. Remember, less wobble equals more success! She also cautions ladies to keep their jewelry, make-up and perfume to a minimum. “There’s a difference in what you wear to go out and what impresses an employer,” she says. “Sometimes that line is fuzzy.” No more! A good rule of thumb from Sanderson is that you should be as well-dressed for your interview as any client that could walk into the company’s office. “It’s business, not business-casual,” she says. She says to compliment your appearance by keeping it classy, stylish and clean. Here are a few more specifics from Richardson to help you accomplish that:
- Pull your hair back neatly or wear it down.
- Wear low heels with closed toes.
- Wear pantyhose if you wear a skirt.
- Make sure your nails look nice, and if they’re polished, make sure your manicure is in perfect condition.
Before and during: Welch says students should research companies ahead of time so they can be productive in their short conversation with a company recruiter. Also, make sure you ask all the questions you have of a recruiter; this could be the only time you have to get them answered, and that’s the recruiter’s job after all. Make sure you come with questions you really want answered, so that you can seriously consider the company and they can seriously consider you, Richardson says.
Avoid freak-outs: Career fairs can be really overwhelming, especially in the middle of midterms, rush, and homecoming prep, to name a few distractions. To make your short conversations less scary, practice a cold conversation with a career counselor at your school. Make sure you know what to say and how to approach a booth. Sanderson’s killer tip for avoiding freak-outs: she suggests using virtual career fairs to get some practice. Here are a few places you can visit to get more practice before those face-to-face interviews. Visit www.jobweb.org/careerfair.aspx or http://virtualcareerfair.net/ or, for an all-student virtual career fair visit http://www.naceweb.org/public/nISVCF/. Welch also suggests organizing the business cards you get as you go and writing notes on them about what you talked about with that recruiter. The more organized you are during the career fair, the easier it will be afterwards, she says. Richardson suggests doing your homework—which, by now, we all know how to do way too well—before speaking with a recruiter. She wants you to set goals and mini-steps for yourself so that no matter how the conversation goes, you’ll feel good about it. To do this, take a look at what you really want to discuss with a recruiter and do that with each one. This might include telling them your career goals and getting all your questions answered. Remember, recruiters get overwhelmed, too, Sanderson says. She says to be patient at the booths and come back later if there is a long line. Afterwards, hang out with your friends and go out to dinner. The whole process can be emotionally and mentally draining, Richardson says, so pat yourself on the back for your efforts and give yourself a timeout from the job search.
After: Follow-up is the most important thing, we hear over and over, but what’s the best way to do it? Before you leave the booth, make sure you know who to contact, since interviewing is a lot about following up and following through, Welch says. Our experts think the best approach is to:
- Send a thank you note right after the interview and let the recruiter know you appreciate their time and await a response from them.
- If a recruiter gives you a timeline for when they will get back to you, listen! Richardson says an overly anxious candidate only hurts herself. Remember, recruiters are looking at hundreds of resumes, so badgering them only slows them down.
- If you don’t hear back within a week, give your recruiter a call or send them a friendly email asking what the hiring status is.
Now that we’ve given you the 411, print out some copies of your résumé, get out there, and rock it! Sources: Renee Welch, Assistant Director for Career Development Counseling and Outreach at Colorado State University Suzanne Sanderson, Director of Selection and Marketing for Wealth Concepts, LLC Ann Richardson, area recruiter for Sherwin-Williams