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Now that school is almost out, and a lot of people are searching for a job, I’ve decided to write an article focused on job hunting at a [college] career fair. While this article is intended for current or recent college grads, a lot of these tips can be modified for those looking to get back into the workforce or transition into a new career. For additional career advice or questions, feel free to contact me by leaving a comment below.

Master the 10-second Introduction

In order for a recruiter to understand if there is an open position for you, you must know what you want and when you want it. For example, if I am a second-year engineering student, then I may want a Summer Internship versus a full-time career. A lot of people may refer to this point as your elevator pitch; however, my method focuses on being clear and concise in 10-seconds. Career fairs can be noisy, so you have to sound confident and speak up while delivering your introduction. In most cases, you will need to be ready to shake the recruiter’s hand towards the end of the introduction. Let’s walk through a few examples of these 10-second introductions:

A second-year student, John, walks up to ABC Electronics Company looking for a summer internship. Here’s what he should start off saying to the recruiter.

Hello, I’m John, a sophomore electrical engineering student, and I am looking for a summer internship with an emphasis on circuit design.

A senior-year physical therapy student, Amber, walks up to BioTherapy Corporation looking for a full-time job after her graduation in May. Here’s what she should start off saying to the recruiter.

Hello, I’m Amber, a senior studying physical therapy, and I am looking for a full-time job as a physical therapist starting in May.

So as you can see, it’s not too difficult to create your 10-second introduction. As a general template, state your first name followed by what year you are, what you study, and what you’re looking for. Practice this statement a few times mentally or out loud; it doesn’t matter, just make sure you are confident to say it to a recruiter when the time comes. If you don’t know what you want, then you’re not ready to introduce yourself to a recruiter. The recruiter will not tell you what you want, nor should they have to. It’s the recruiter’s job to find a good match for their company, not tell you how to live your life or what you can do with your degree. That’s up to you to figure out (or see a career counselor if you’re having trouble with this). Once you’ve mastered your introduction, it is time to research the career fair you will be attending. Most colleges provide a wealth of information about their career fairs, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to find. This leads me to my next point: have a plan.

Go in with a Plan

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You should not walk into a career fair without a plan. It’s too overwhelming, and you will end up wasting time walking aimlessly around at tables that are worthless to developing your career. Since you’ve taken my advice from tip #1, you already know what you’re looking for, so now is your time to research which companies offer the jobs you want and who will be at the career fair you are attending. Don’t worry if you think the job you want is stretching your background; if you have the confidence and the skill-set to perform the job you want, you can have any job you’d like, provided that you’re willing to work hard and convince the recruiter that you’re a perfect fit.

So to create the perfect career fair plan, create a list of the top 10 companies that you MUST visit while you’re there. If you can’t create a list of 10, then create a list of six to eight MUST visit companies. This is critical because having your top non-negotiable companies will provide the backbone for who you will be talking to and where you need to visit before you leave. Think of it as a grocery list. Remember that time you went to the grocery store but forgot to pick up milk and then remembered on the way home? You don’t want to accidentally “forget” to visit a company because you were overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and distractions of the career fair.

Once you have your list of top companies, find each of them on the career fair map. Circle or mark their locations so that you know the route you will walk while at the fair. Also take note of which companies are next to your top choices in case you have extra time to visit with them. It’s always good to utilize long lines/waiting time for quick visits with other companies nearby. Use these neighboring companies (if relevant to your career) to practice your introduction and network with recruiters. You may also find that some of the tables have interesting displays, which can be used as conversation starters…i.e…

I was walking by and saw your display. It caught my eye and I was wondering what your company does…[jump into your 10-second introduction here]

You never know who you might meet or what other careers you can uncover by just talking to random booths. However, before you go off on a tangent talking to random booths, be sure you make it to all of the top companies on your list!

Only Bring Essential Things

This is not a camping trip or a 6-month getaway. Do not bring your backpack. Do not bring your toothbrush! (Although you definitely should brush your teeth before going!) Clearly none of these things are needed. Expect a million people packed in a small space. You will get sweaty; you will have zero room to walk anywhere at times. Do not add to the awkwardness by having extra stuff you don’t need.

Here’s a list of things that are 100% necessary. Everything else, leave home, lock up in a locker nearby, or have a friend babysit it.

  • Cell Phone (takedown contact info or schedule an interview on your calendar)
  • Pen
  • legal pad
  • Your list of top 10 companies
  • Map of the career fair
  • Your Student ID
  • Your house key
  • Name tag (wear it on your right side)
  • Your resumes
  • Padfolio or folder to hold your resumes
  • Business cards (If you have them; if you don’t, I recommend getting them for your upper-class/junior/senior years.)

Also, some career fairs will provide you with booklets filled with information about each company and blah blah blah. Tell the kind person who gives the book to you that you’re all set. Save the paper. You’ve done your research, you don’t need any extra books to carry.

Ask Questions (even if you don’t have any)

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Be sure you ask questions while speaking to the recruiter. He or she may as you at the end if you have any additional questions. Never say no. This is not the time to sound uninterested in the company. If you sincerely don’t have any questions to ask then ask any or all of these “buzz” questions:

  • What are my next steps?
  • When do I need to apply online by?
  • When can I expect to hear from you again?

These questions show that you’re sincerely interested in the company and want to stay in touch with the recruiter. Plus it will remind you what you need to do to get a job offer from that company. Some recruiters will request that you apply online or send over a digital copy of your resume. Others may want to you start the interview process. Others may say that you’re all set and they will be reviewing resumes within the next weeks. Whatever the case may be, you can use the answers to those questions as you review each interaction. This leads me to the next tip:

Review Each Interaction

After each wrap-up with a recruiter, it is important that you take a few moments to jot down some notes about who you talked to (his/her name), what you talked about, and any critical follow-up steps you need to complete (if so, be sure to include the completion date/time, since that is very important). After talking to 10 people, you’ll start to mix up who was from where so having a reference sheet to use after the career fair will save you a lot of hassle of trying to remember if Joe was from Company A or Company B.

Review each interaction between visiting the next. Use your time waiting in line to jot these notes down, or just find a spot to step aside and jot them down. Don’t forget to do this. These two minutes of your time for each can do wonders for you the next day when you’re sending your follow-up emails…

Send Thank You’s and Follow-Ups

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You made it. You successfully met some recruiters from top-notch companies at the career fair. It’s the next day. Now what? Do you have a job offer? Most-likely not. Do you want one? YES!

Send a Thank You note to each of the people you met. If you met someone from a company you don’t want to pursue further, send a thank you note anyway. If you met someone from a company you 100% love, send a thank you note. Either way, you have some thinking and writing to do. A lot of recruiters take time out of their busy workdays to visit career fairs, so take five minutes and show your appreciation! It can do wonders for building your professional network because it’s a way for the recruiter to remember you! Plus, it shows that you’re interested and care about your career! To make your writing easier, I’ve included a list of things to say in your thank-you note. Feel free to use any of these topics. Just make sure you keep your emails professional and proof-read for spelling and grammar before sending them off!

 Topics to Include:

  • Thank You! (obviously)
  • Something you talked about with the recruiter (this makes the letter more meaningful)
  • Say that you’re looking forward to talking to him/her again
  • Thank him/her for his/her time
  • Something intriguing or particularly interesting about the company that you hope you’re involved with

Final Thoughts: ICYMI/TL;DR

There’s always one in the crowd that skips to the end of the article or skims through it quickly. Hey there, I’m talking to you! 😉

You’re in luck, here’s a summary of the key points to leveraging yourself at a career fair. Feel free to also use this part of the article as a quick-reference guide.

Tip #1: Create a 10-second introduction about yourself that states your name and answers the questions: What year are you, what are you studying, what do you want to do, and when are you available to start.

Tip #2: Research the companies that are visiting the fair you’re attending and pick 6-10 of them to visit. Map out the route that you will take at the fair and know which companies are nearby in case you are challenged by long lines. Use these extra companies to practice your introduction.

Tip #3: Only bring essential things to the career fair: resumes, padfolio/folder, notepad, list of top companies/fair maps, and a pen are all you need to be successful. If you have business cards, those can help as well for a quick point of contact and networking.

Tip #4: Ask questions when the recruiter asks you if you have any questions. In this case, try not to say “no.” Instead, choose any or all of these questions to ask: What are my next steps; The key to talking with recruiters is to get them to talk to you for as long as possible without getting boring or awkward. Stay actively engaged by showing interest and asking questions.

Tip #5: Review each interaction after it happens. You do not want to forget who you spoke to and what you spoke about. Jot down some notes (especially the recruiter’s name/email)! Write thank-you notes to each recruiter and send out within a few days after the fair as a follow-up to your conversation and to show interest in that particular job.

There you have it. My tips for success at a college job fair. While there are many more moving pieces to getting job offers, hopefully, these key points will provide a strong foundation for getting you the career of your dreams.

If you liked this article, please share it with your friends! Also, feel free to leave a comment below; I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Good luck with finding your next career move!

This article originally appeared on Queenflex.com, October 11, 2015.

Like my work? Keep me caffeinated.

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