I have grown from a nervous college student into a confident prospective intern after attending two University Career Services (UCS) career fairs at Northwestern. After putting on my best dress and cutest ballet flats and talking to recruiters for hours, I have realized the keys to my own career fair successes, as well as how to avoid awkward missteps. Here are five basic career fair tips that can help any college career fair attendee:
1. Dress for (comfortable) success
While shopping for formal business attire, make sure you look good as well as feel comfortable. Your dashing suit or brand new dress won’t do you any good if it is too tight or loose. Make sure that you can walk around in your formal outfit for an extended period of time without having to adjust anything. Comfortable business shoes are a must- all networking takes place standing up!
2. Have a plan
Remember that you will probably have classes scheduled around the career fair. In order to maximize your time, plan out the most important, “can’t miss” companies that you need to meet. You can always allow for detours if a new company’s booth strikes your eye, but having a plan will allow you to see all of the companies that you are seriously considering.
3. Ditch your friends
Okay, so don’t permanently leave your friends, but don’t walk around with them at the career fair. One of the best pieces I received regarding career fairs was from a representative at our own Northwestern UCS. “Your friends may have never seen you in professional mode, and they may not take it seriously”, he said. In order to be at your best and feel comfortable talking in a professional manner, let your friends take their own path around the career fair.
4. Be prepared
This may be an obvious one, but I have cringed at witnessing awkward experiences of other career fair attendees. Make sure you have plenty of resumes and any other documents you may need. Almost every recruiter will ask for your resume, and I have seen conversations fall and die when a student forgets their resume.
Being prepared also means doing your research on the companies you plan to talk to. Bring a set of notes with you that outline the essentials of each company’s internship program, as well as a set of questions that you can ask them. Telling a company how excited you are for their specific internship program sounds much more appealing than asking them if they have any internships available.
5. Notice your body language
Stand tall and walk proudly around the room. Give the recruiter a firm handshake and make eye contact with them. Actively use your hands to enhance your elevator speech instead of hanging them by your legs. Body language can distinguish between an anxious college student and an impressive, professional candidate. You would think that remembering to do these basic things would be easy, but I felt my posture slipping and my handshake lacking grip during my first career fair. I felt much more confident at my second career fair when I checked my body language before speaking to each company.
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