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How To Use Career Fairs To Land An Internship, According To 2 Experts

College students are always looking for the next step to level up in the professional world. That can mean doing something as simple as creating business connections, but on the flip side, it could also be as daunting as getting the first big girl job or internship in your career. Navigating the job market and your specific professional industry could feel like an extra layer of stress when you have tons of other things to pour your focus into during the school year. Between homework, extracurriculars, and even your current job, it can be hard to think ahead toward an internship when you’re already overbooked as it is. Thankfully, one of the best parts about being a student is that colleges have resources to help you take those steps, like career fairs.

Colleges and universities understand it’s a lot of students’ first times networking, finding internships, and getting job offers. College is expensive, so we may as well reap the career benefits our colleges give us. As a student at the University of Oklahoma who is about to graduate, career fairs have been fresh on my mind lately. Here’s how to go to a career fair ready to secure your next internship or job, all from two experts in the field. 

Use The Career Fair As An Opportunity For Practice.

The reality of finding a job or internship is that it can be nerve-wracking, especially when you’re first starting out. Intimidation is natural, and despite delivering your elevator pitch and expressing interest in the company, your conversation won’t always go exactly how you plan. Practicing communication with multiple hiring managers and company representatives in one place at a career fair provides a unique opportunity for you to grow your confidence and better refine your delivery. “Introduce yourself to an employer that’s not on your list before you get started,” urges Debbie Boles, Senior Assistant Director at the University of Oklahoma’s career center. “Take a moment that can help with the nervousness.” By putting yourself in a lower-stakes environment, you can allow yourself to make mistakes and learn from them.

Attend A Career Fair At Any Point In College.

Whether you’re a freshman or senior, career fairs are an invaluable resource for you. “There’s never a bad time for a career fair,” says Deanna Knighton, Director for the College of Natural Resources at North Carolina State University. “Certainly when you’re a first-year, second-year student, and even if you’re not looking for an internship.” Even if you’re just a freshman, you still have a shot of getting an internship for the summer if you come in with passion and grab a company’s interest. On the flip side, seniors can benefit from a summer internship before they begin their first official job out of graduation. Getting extra experience is never a bad thing, and it shows companies that you’re willing to put in work to diversify your skillset.. 

Learn about what companies are looking for, and tweak your resume accordingly.

When applying for internships, a lot of companies are looking for something specific in an applicant’s qualifications and experiences. It can be hard to understand what those skills are if you’ve never communicated with a company, and you have a better chance of knowing what a company wants or needs after interacting with a representative in person. “Have some questions prepared that you can ask. What keeps you working here? What do you like about it?” Knighton says. “What advice do you have for students in my career field or my major?” Asking questions like these may give you insights on company culture, what’s expected out of interns, and even what they want you to be seeking in a company you intern for. With this knowledge, you can tweak your resume, cover letter, or even interview approach to show you’re a solid fit for the company.

Network For The Future.

You may not believe that career fairs are useful to you if you’re not currently seeking out an internship. You may already have one secured, or just have another job that you’ve committed to, but the reality is that networking is one of the most valuable aspects of a career fair. It allows you to cultivate a connection with a company that you didn’t have before, especially if you know you’re interested in working for them in the future. “They’re eager to get to know you. They want you to feel comfortable. They are the people on the front end that will be promoting their business,” Boles says. “They want to encourage students to learn more.” Make LinkedIn connections, stay in touch, and in the future, you’ll be that much more likely to be at the top of their list when they recognize your name and make the connection. 

Career fairs can be daunting, but it’s hard to deny what a valuable resource they are. By attending career fairs at your university, you can improve your chances of securing the internship you really want. 

Addie Whightsil is a Public Relations student at the University of Oklahoma. Beyond academics, Addie's interests extend to the simple pleasures in life. She has an undeniable affection for juice, savoring every drop of its fruity goodness. Her fondness for Jellycats, those irresistibly huggable stuffed animals, adds a touch of whimsy to her daily life. However, what she really loves is sharing personal stories and life lessons for the internet to read.