“Confidence comes from knowing what you’re doing. If you are prepared for something, you usually do it. If not, you usually fall flat on your face.” – Tom Landry
Internship and Career Fair season is stressful for both attendees and employers. The employers must make sure that they have all the information for any handouts, materials for table setup, presentations, and of course the marketing swag that some attendees grab even if they do not visit with that company, so you need to do your part and show up prepared as well. A few years ago, I started working for a new corporation and part of my reason for accepting this offer, instead of the others, was that it would allow me to start an internship/mentorship program and speak to local high school and college students about starting their careers. Having been on both ends, I have a different perspective on how to approach the situation, although one size does not fit all.
This article is intended to help you prepare to arrive ready to show up and show out meaning you are confident when speaking, and able to captivate potential employers. You do want to be memorable, right?
What is the game plan?
There will be lots of companies represented, sometimes hundreds, so whom are you going to visit? There is always a list of companies provided for attendees beforehand, so let the research begin. Go through the list and see which companies will be in attendance. Categorizing whom you want to speak with by industry and preference will be beneficial. Most hosting sites provide a layout for you to see where these companies are so that you do not have to wander around trying to find one among the sea of other attendees and booths. Also, be on the lookout for the fairs that are industry specific or align with your major (i. e. Engineering Career Fair, School of Business Career Fair, etc.). Once you have that list completed, then it is time to start looking at what these companies specialize in, and what they are offering. With the advent of social media, business blogs, and company websites in general, there is no reason why you should not know at least the basic company profile information. Asking questions about topics posted online does not help your positioning. If you arrive at the event and find a new corporation of interest, then where is your smartphone? Again, no excuse.
Is your equipment ready?
Equipping yourself is all about making sure you have what you need once you get to the event. First and foremost, you need to have your resume in order. Most schools have free services at the career center that will help with this. Do not show up with an unformatted resume that lacks the information you want to convey. Make sure you tailor it to the career fair that you are attending. Another issue that I see is some attendees do not take the time to staple their resume. I get at least three resumes per event with resumes folded at the corners. Really, how hard is it to staple these pages together? If this is your first time seeking a job or internship, and you lack the experience, then include the relevant coursework and projects that you have studied. For those interested in software programming, this would include links to projects you have hosted in places like GitHub or websites that you created. If you are a copywriter, graphic designer, marketing professional, or another creative, it is useful to have a portfolio of about eight samples ready.
How’s your pitch? Not everyone has the gift of gab; so preparing and practicing your elevator pitch in advance will help. Some aspects of your pitch should tailor specific companies, but the rest will be the same. It should contain your expertise, experience, and excellence. Schools like Rice University have volunteers at their career fair that help you practice and give you pointers before you meet with potential employers. It is a good idea to take advantage of those opportunities. Another way to practice, if the hosting site does not have these volunteers, is to speak with employers that you are not as interested in first. This mock conversation will allow you to get comfortable faster and decrease your chance of bumbling words with your top interest.
These events are stressful for both parties. It is up to you to make sure that you get the most out of it while representing yourself in a way that gives you a chance to stand out amongst the hundreds of others in attendance. Being well prepared before you start speaking with these employers will relieve most of the stress, but it will still be a little nerve racking. Are you going to arrive at the event equipped with the tools to succeed, or will you have faulty equipment?
Karl T. S. Jackson is a Project Manager and frequently speaks with students from middle school through college about personal development and how personal choices affect their future. He enjoys writing about business, young professionals, personal growth, and personal experiences. You can also connect with him on G+.