As students return to school and become acclimated with their daily routines of going to class, meeting with groups, and preparing for tests, a portion of their attention focuses on their career searches. In preparing a strategy for an effective career search, students often block off dates on their calendars to attend one or multiple career fairs. For today's installment of the Student Life Blog, we will examine how to construct a productive strategy, so when you attend your next career fair, you can have a plan.
Frequently, a visit to a career fair may render a hectic feel; one that makes it seem as though 15 freshly printed copies of your resume packed into a new padfolio combined with your professional dress is not enough. Well, to be honest, it isn’t enough, however, all of that with clearly identified objectives and an associated action plan prepares you for a successful experience.
At last year’s University of Illinois Fall Business Career Fair, a multitude of featured companies set up their information stands with some lines wrapped around the booth. As I entered into the fair, I could not help but to feel overwhelmed. In moving around and speaking to various high-end companies, I utilized my 30-second pitch to spark interest in some, however like many others who attended without goals in mind, I left without any real sense of accomplishment.
Author, Lewis Carroll once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.
In my opinion, no quote could be more applicable in describing the manner in which many students approach these opportunities. As I attended more career fairs and interacted with more people, I came to devise a plan of action in order to capitalize on these prospective goldmines.
· Repeat: Whether you have an interview, a career fair, or even a simple networking event, you are presented with an opportunity to tell your story, but before you can tell your story, you must know your story. This is the purpose of your 30-second pitch; utilize this pitch to convey the key characteristics with which you want people to associate you. Before you set foot in front of a company’s representative, you should feel cool, calm, and collected telling your story, so practice your 30-second pitch until you feel comfortable with it!
· Research: Since you will inevitably encounter a floor crowded with more attendees than you care to count, one’s ability to differentiate holds pertinent importance. Referencing your knowledge of the company with a subtle, modest opinion in the flow of the conversation speaks volumes to your ability to prepare and analyze. These two attributes coincide with some of the skill sets needed in the workplace. The knowledge on which you would draw can only be acquired through research. Select your top five companies, and make sure you have some substantial facts to naturally work into the conversation.
· Reach: Often, people attend career fairs ready to talk for their entire stay, so continue to differentiate yourself through inquiry. Deliver your 30-second pitch effectively, but once you have done that, ask questions. Where do you see the direction of the company going in the future? How have you enjoyed your experience with the company? These are my interests; in which positions do you feel my skills best apply? Not only will you convey unselfishness through your desire to share talk time, but you will also gain valuable information.
· Request: Finally, as we talked about in the beginning, objectives must be laid out to keep you focused during your time at the career fair. Expectations should vary depending on the situation. For instance, in some cases, seeking an interview as the end result is feasible and appropriate whereas in others such a request may express a lack of patience and knowledge in the process. My personal practice is to never leave without requesting and receiving a business card or contact information. This progresses the conversation and assists in establishing a relationship and rapport with the company, broadening your network.
In summary, preparation is key when attending career fairs. Outlining a clear action plan can place you in prime position to make an impact and achieve your objectives for the experience. So, next time as you ready yourself for a corporate interaction remember the 4 R’s—repeat, research, reach, and request!
Thank you for reading the Student Life Blog! Stay tuned as there will be more to come!