In a world where it can feel as though we are sending resumés into a digital abyss, interacting with an actual human being can make all the difference.
A career fair can be an access point for excellent career information, providing a unique opportunity to interact directly with potential employers.
By developing a comprehensive approach to a career fair, these in-person interactions can have lasting impressions on prospective employers.
The U of M hosts a career fair every January and this year you can attend on Tuesday, Jan. 15 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Wednesday, Jan. 16 from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the second floor of UMSU University Centre.
Of course, these sorts of events can be a challenge to navigate without guidance. Here are tips to make the most of your career fair experience.
Make a plan before you get to the fair
It is tempting to just wander into the career fair and mosey around collecting free pens. Unfortunately, this is not the best strategy for a meaningful interaction at a career fair.
Two steps will lead to a more meaningful experience. First, comb through the published list of attendees in advance, checking each of their websites to determine which are of interest to you. Then list your favourites so you can be sure to hit their booths.
Research, research, research
Once you identify your favourite companies, research them.
The career fair is an excellent learning opportunity, but the internet is also packed with information on the companies who attend.
By becoming knowledgeable about your favourite organizations in advance, you will appear intelligent, motivated and interested in the company when speaking to its representatives.
Prepare insightful questions
As you research, begin to draft questions for each employer. Do not waste your time asking questions easily answered through a simple Google search.
Career fairs are about more than telling employers what you have to offer. Take time to listen and learn.
Prepare questions for prospective employers about what can be done while you are still in the midst of your studies to best position yourself to get the experience required for a job you desire.
One of the best questions you can ask a hiring manager is “What do you look for in a prime candidate?” By determining the expertise, education and previous experience they are seeking, you can make a plan to become their best applicant.
Prepare your personal introduction
It is common for employers to ask you about yourself when you visit their booth.
You should have a short introduction prepared which includes your name, education, a brief explanation of your experience or skills and the type of work you are looking for now or when you graduate.
Tailor this information for each employer, highlighting the skills you know they want based on your research. You might even explicitly explain what attracts you to this company and makes you feel you are a great fit.
Practice out loud a few times so you feel confident and professional when you begin introducing yourself at the fair.
Dress like you would for a job interview
Career fairs are professional events, so dress as you would for a job interview in your field. A good rule of thumb is to dress slightly more professionally than would be expected if you were employed at the companies you are interested in.
If you are unsure, business casual or business attire is usually a safe bet.
If you have a locker to stash your coat and backpack in, use it. You will look much more polished and put together if you are not lugging around distracting baggage.
Bring your resumé
If you are looking for work, bring copies of your resumé along. Some employers will direct you to apply online to a specific job posting, but a more generic document can be used to help employers remember you and get in touch with you after the fair.
If your conversation provides insight into improvements for your application, make sure to get the contact information of the employer and send a follow-up email within a couple days with an updated and tailored resumé and cover letter.
More effort, more reward
Ultimately, a career fair is what you make of it. By taking the time to plan your visit, you set yourself up for success.
Career fairs are great ways to get jobs, but they are also a chance to learn about the world of work and prepare for your future.