Why Campus Job Fairs Are Worth Your Time

by | March 31, 2009

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Why bother attending a campus job fair?

When you apply for employment online, it can take days, weeks or even months before you hear back from a single employer about your candidacy -- if you hear anything at all. And aside from your cover letter, you have no way of connecting with recruiters on a personal level.

Attend a job fair and learn immediately from dozens of recruiters about current job openings, skills most in demand and more, while making a personal impression. Just be sure to prepare ahead because even though conversations with recruiters don't count as formal interviews, they can lead to ones or worse, deter them.

At a job fair at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., one student tarnished his candidacy by saying, "I read about your company" to Kenneth Lavis, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, D.C. "We're a government agency, not a company," he says. "That indicated to me right away that he wasn't thoroughly thinking about the situation." A canned speech can give the impression that you're not interested in a particular organization. Job hunters should "show some personality and tell me why you want to work for us," says Lavis.

Working a Campus Job Fair

To make a positive impression on recruiters at job fairs, apply these six tips and improve your chances of landing follow-up interviews:

  1. Map out your tour.
  2. Most campus job fairs take place in large auditoriums designed to hold the many participating employers. Save time and energy by finding out which employers will be attending and where they'll be located in the room. A list of employers and a map are usually printed on a fair's brochure or Web site. Allison Miller, a business major seeking a marketing assistant's position at a fashion retail company, checked the fair's Web site to see which fashion employers would be there. She discovered that only two, both from New York-based Federated Department Stores Inc., would be present and planned to talk with their recruiters.

  3. Research the companies.
  4. Learn the basics about the employers that you're targeting. At minimum, you should know one or two of their most important products or services, what types of customers buy them and where they're based. A brief visit to the companies' Web sites should provide you with the information you need. Don't feel the need to go overboard, says Suzanne Manning, recruiting and branch-training manager for the New Jersey and New York offices of Expeditors, a Seattle-based logistics company. "Recruiters don't expect you to be as knowledgeable about their businesses at a job fair as you would for a full-blown interview," she says.

  5. Bring a one-page resume.
  6. Recruiters at job fairs don't want to see resumes that exceed a page, yet some college seniors and recent grads still hand them lengthier documents. "Resumes shouldn't come with staples," says Jessica Sun, an associate with Navigant Consulting in Princeton, N.J. "You don't need to put down everything you've ever done or list every class you've taken." She recommends devoting most of your resume to relevant work experience and applicable courses.

  7. Know what you want.
  8. Job seekers should be able to tell recruiters what kind of work they want to do after college. "Students don't need to cite specific positions or job titles, but they should have an overall feel for the kind of job they want," says Manning. Of course, many job seekers admit they aren't certain what they want to do. "I'll take anything," says Chris Beaman, a 2003 Rutgers psychology graduate who has been seeking full-time employment since earning his degree in January. Offering this kind of information won't score you any points with recruiters. If you truly lack direction, make an appointment with your campus career-services office for a career assessment.

  9. Work on that handshake.
  10. Sharon Richards, a recruiter for accounting firm Deloitte & Touche LLP in New York, says a limp handshake is one of her pet peeves about candidates. "It may not seem like a big deal, but it's a real turnoff," she says. Practice with a friend until you've developed a firm grip. Also, keep a cloth handy if you tend to have sweaty palms.

  11. Dress up.
  12. Wearing a suit or dressy clothes may be a radical departure from your normal attire, but you won't stick out at a job fair. Wearing business clothes tells recruiters that you're serious about your career after college. Hakan Balik, a senior majoring in economics, had his suit dry-cleaned for the fair. Seeking an entry-level job in mortgage insurance or another financial-services field, Balik was among the majority of attendees in professional attire.

-- Sarah E. Needleman is associate editor at CollegeJournal.com.

Filed Under: Job Search

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