How to Network at a Career Fair or Career Workshop!
Congratulations! You’ve been invited to attend a career planning workshop! (or) You’ve been invited to a career fair!
While most of us would meet these invitations with excitement and enthusiasm, some of us are less inclined to be thrilled with ‘putting ourselves out there’ and all the moving parts that go along with it. So what are some of the best ways to get the most out of these resources? What do we need to keep in mind so we can position ourselves in the best possible light?
Let’s begin with the very basics. How does your resume look? Has it been reviewed (several times) but industry professionals? Does it contain a positioning statement (as opposed to an objective). Is this positioning statement short, concise, does it speak to your professional skills and/or expertise without using the dreaded word “seeking”?
How many resumes do you have with you? (they’re not heavy, carry no less than 20). Be prepared to send your resume to those who would like an emailed copy – be mindful of those who don’t want to fiddle with their phones, and provide a clean, crisp copy in-person. Also, pay special attention to the ‘look’ of your resume. It is perfectly acceptable to have a resume with attractive fonts, etc. but keep in mind that the same resume will be a mangled mess once put through an organizations applicant tracking system (which is unable to read special symbols and fancy designs).
Now that your resume is ready for the world – do you know who will be present at the event? It is usually possible to get a name of the organizations scheduled to attend a fair. Do some research about the company beforehand, what can you learn about them in real-time that will make your conversation stand out among the other participants? If there are names attached to the company – do a quick search on LinkedIn and see if you can attach a name to the face when you are in person. The more you know about the organization, its mission, even its competition – the more informed you will be, the more professional the exchange will be.
Your resume is ready, you’ve done your research. Are you dressed for the part? It is imperative that you dress “for the job you want, not the job you have”. It is preferred that you wear business attire to the career fair, or workshop. Make sure you are in an outfit appropriate for the industry of interest, but be mindful that even if the job is ‘entry level’ you need to indicate ‘big picture’ thinking and see yourself as part of a bigger initiative – let the organization ‘picture you’ in a professional role. Make sure you pay attention to the smaller details: portfolio or professional folder for your resumes (not folded or rolled-up in your backpack), use a briefcase or professional tote and stay away from the ‘luggage look’ that holds everything from your sneakers and lunch, to your work-out clothes and over-sized water bottle.
Are you arriving at least fifteen minutes before the event begins? Have you made sure that your hands aren’t sweaty, your hair is neat, your shoes have not just been trampled-on in your hurried commute? Are you carrying around coffee? Don’t. Leave your hands free for a business card exchange, the resume presentation, materials you might be offered. Is your phone turned off? Are your headphones discreetly tucked away?
Take a look at the facilities before you begin making your rounds. Where are the companies you are most interested in? Can you visit them after you have spent some time talking to the ones on your B list? *It’s always a good idea to shake out the awkwardness before you plunge right into your elevator pitch….which brings me to the elevator pitch – do you have one? When is the last time you tried it out on someone other than your best friend or significant other? Prioritize by meeting with those you’re least interested in first – be sure to be flexible, and patient. If you are interested in these employers, chances are, others are too. There may be lines and a significant wait – be sure to remain professional and courteous at all times.
Introduce yourself and be prepared to give the ‘elevator pitch’ we mentioned earlier. Extend your hand, give a firm handshake, have your resume ready to go – and be prepared to talk about your career interests, goals, extra-curricular activities.
There is nothing wrong with taking notes, so take some. No one expects you to remember everything, and chances are you will be provided with a great deal of relevant information – be mindful of everyone’s time and jot down information that you might want to refer to later on.
*Future interviewing dates, on-campus events – these are all items you will want later on when this event is over.
Be sure to ask the representative for his/her card. Send a thank-you to everyone you met – thank him/her for the time spent discussing their organization, and for allowing you the opportunity to present your professional credentials.
Be respectful of the materials and samples that are provided at the event. Only take that which is truly relevant, ask before you take anything on the table (might just be a sample document with not enough to go around) and thank the representative for any ‘fun items’ like stress balls, pens, notepads (they may seem like fun giveaways but they are actually costly to the organization in the long run).
Above all else, smile and be friendly. Recruiters and company representatives will always be more impressed with an enthusiastic beginner who is eager to learn, as opposed to a somber candidate with a slick resume and no enthusiasm!
All in all, the career fair, the workshop, the networking event, are all excellent ways to introduce you to the world of work. Learning about different industries, who the influencers are, how you fit in –can be accomplished all in one place and what better way is there to see what the future has in store!
Mingle and get busy!