The season for job searching is upon us again. Most students need summer plans, whether it’s an internship or a job, and a career fair offers the perfect opportunity to survey the possibilities. But it can be a bit overwhelming.
Imagine walking into one such fair, armed with your resumé and ready to wow any potential employers. But you’re surrounded by loads of other students dressed in suits, fighting for the same positions. Everyone is dolled up, vying to make the best impression to land a coveted internship or job. Lines of students snake through the room to the various tables or booths manned by individuals who could make or break your future (OK, so I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the point).
[suit1]How can you be unique? What can you do to leave an impression? Just relax and read on for tips on how to not only escape a career fair alive, but also on how to gain experience in the process.
You don’t go to a career fair to land an interview, Courtney Chapin, a field career consultant with the College of Arts and Letters, explained to me at the Communication Conference and Career Fair last week. It’s more about getting your resumé into the right hands and making contacts. “It’s good to build relationships and have connections,” Chapin said.
But how do you know giving your resumé to a potential employer is going to do any good, especially when it’s mixed in with the credentials of so many others? In reality, employers get just as many resumés online as they do at career fairs, Chapin said. The benefit of a fair is that you get a chance to make an impression and see the competition.
Now that we’ve covered why you should go to career fairs, here’s how to knock ‘em dead:
Do Some Homework.
You want to show employers you know about their organization. Knowledge demonstrates enthusiasm and interest, both things recruiters are looking for in a future employee.
“It’s really a lot like dating,” Chapin said. It makes no sense to go up to a stranger and say, “I want to be your boyfriend/girlfriend because I’m single,” she said. It is the same with employers. It makes no sense to approach them and want a job just because they are hiring. As with your prospective significant other, there needs to be some degree of compatibility between you and a company. Look them up, do some research and get to know the people behind the business.
Dress appropriately, usually business casual.
You want to make a good first impression. When in doubt, the Career Services and Placement Center advises dressing more professionally.
Be confident.
The CSP website advises creating an introduction for yourself that is similar to a commercial. What three qualities set you apart from the pack? What skills can you bring to the company? A short introducation can express enthusiasm and knowledge, while showing how you can be valuable to the organization.
Gary Reid, general manager of WDBM, the campus radio station The Impact, spoke on the “Everything You Wanted to Know about Internships” panel. He advised the audience to ask meaningful questions but also to talk about you. Students have been asking questions all day, so set yourself apart from everyone else by emphasizing your experience or qualities.
Be sincere and polite.
Don’t go over the top, but companies like when students show initiative.
Send a follow-up note.
Chapin says this is a key to getting your resumé noticed and something most students fail to do. The follow-up shows good manners and ensures that the employer pulls your resumé from the stack to attach the note, thereby placing you at the top of the heap.
Keep your eyes and ears open to what other students are doing.
Take mental notes of particularly good strategies.
[career] Take advantage of the resources and workshops CSP offers.
Visit their website, www.csp.msu.edu , for more information.
Students at all levels of the job search process attend career fairs. From seniors in need of concrete post-graduation plans, to underclassmen seeking real world experience via internships, to motivated freshmen getting their name out; a career fair produces a veritable army of occupation-minded students.
Erin Ceithaml, a communication senior, is graduating in May and is in the midst of her job search. “I came to the career fair to look for potential employers in the communication industry,” Ceithaml said. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity to network.”
Eileen Lee, a junior, just changed her major from journalism to advertising. She braved the career fair, “hopefully to get an internship in advertising and learn about the opportunities in the field.”
Just because you aren’t graduating for another three years and don’t need an internship yet doesn’t mean you can’t profit from a career fair.
“The best advice I can give is to go to a career fair before you have to,” Chapin said. That way, you can get a preview and will be prepared for when you do need to land a job or internship. It might not hurt to whip out that button-down shirt and your dusty portfolio to brave the masses at the next career feeding frenzy…I mean, fair.

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