Today marks the beginning of Career Fair Week at Carnegie Mellon. By Friday, over 350 firms and 1000+ employer reps will have descended onto campus to meet and interview CMU students. So how does one prepare for a career fair?
As with most things in life, preparation is key. The Career Fair week hosts an overwhelming number of people and one must realize the need to prepare before trying to navigate events of this size. My first piece of advice is not to bite off more than one can chew. This means finding 8-10 top firms you wish on which to focus your efforts.
8-10: There is no physical way one can visit each employer table and it is not conceivable that one would want to speak with all 350 firms. I recommend reviewing the anticipated attendee list and identifying 8-10 firms per event that are of most interest to you. To help you trim the list, you should evaluate the types of roles the firm is recruiting for and whether they are looking for full-time or interns.
You may be surprised that some of the firms that are attending the fair may not be looking for so-called obvious majors. For example, at a career fair I helped organize last year, Ford Motor Company attended but were not recruiting automotive engineers. Instead, they were attending the fair to recruit Finance and Accounting majors.
Another good strategy is to identify one or two firms that are new to recruiting at these events. Often these firms have a more difficult time attracting candidates and thus the competition level (and waiting lines) may be less.
Research: So you now have a list of 8-10 firms, take some time to conduct research. Visit companies’ webpages, follow them on social media sites, talk to those who have worked or interned at companies on your target list. Be sure you know some basics about the firms and the position(s) they are looking to fill:
- Services/Products of the firms
- Positions looking to fill
- Desired qualifications
- Recent news about the firm and industry
- Draft 3-4 questions you wish to ask (questions should elicit information that will help you strengthen your application and your evaluation of the firm)
Conduct research and create a one page “cheat sheet” on each firm. This information will come in handy when you attend the career fair.
Since you get one shot at a first impression, and you are trying to distinguish yourself from the 100+ attendees the employer will see, you want to ensure you are ready with your best pitch.
A-B List: Now that you have researched your top eight to ten companies, create an “A” and “B” list of firms. Which firms are you most excited about? They go on the “A” list. When you attend the fair, the first company you approach should be from your “B” list. Why?
A career fair can be a stressful situation and you should allow yourself sometime to “warm-up”. Approach a company that is less desirable and you may not feel the pressure to perform. Also, if you are awkward in your approach, at least your awkwardness was not in front of one of your top choices.
Cheat Sheets: Have a one page cheat sheet for each company you wish to meet. While waiting in line or preparing to go over to the company booth, pull out the sheet you created during your research. It should contain pertinent company information, details about the position they are recruiting for, and questions you would like to ask. This last-minute cram session can help you remember key facts about the firm and help you in nailing your pitch.
The Pitch: You are up. Approach the employer representative with a smile, make good eye contact, and offer a strong handshake. Now it is time to make your introduction. I recommend:
- Core information (name, major, class year)
- Why you are interested in the firm
- What you can offer the employer
- Questions you have
Hello, my name is Kevin Monahan and a I am a junior Global Studies major. It is great to see Procter & Gamble recruiting as I grew up on your products (Tide, Crest, Gillette). I noticed P&G is recruiting for a marketing intern and I know I can offer strong market research and problem solving skills (hopefully you mention skills P&G listed on the internship posting). I do have some questions I would like to ask you about the internship…
Now it is time to ask your questions. Your questions should be specific to the role and company. Questions should elicit information that you can use to improve your application, prepare you for an interview, or teach you more about the company or the role.
Closing: You have asked your questions and are ready to make your exit. Thank the recruiter for their time and the information. Express your strong interest in the role and ask for the recruiter for their contact information or business card:
Thank you for your time and all the information. I believe I am ready to apply and will do so in the coming day. Could I get your email or business card, as I would like to follow-up with you after I have applied for the marketing internship.
Some firms may be interviewing the very next day, if so be sure to make an ask for an interview:
Thank you for your time and the information about the internship. I saw that P&G is scheduled to interview tomorrow – if that is the case I want to express my strong interest in interviewing for the marketing internship program. I know I can be successful at Procter and Gamble in this role and I hope you consider adding me to your interview schedule.
As you leave the booth and take a few steps to provide some distance between you and the employer, take a few minutes to jot down some notes about your meeting on your cheat sheet for the company. Now it is time to move onto the next employer.
After you visit a couple of your ‘B’ companies, move to your ‘A’ list and take care of those firms. You want to visit with them while you and they are still fresh. Complete the event by visiting the rest of your ‘B’ list and maybe even stopping off at a few companies that were not even on either of your lists. Enjoy the event and engage employers in conversation – you never know where it may lead.