Written by Marlo Wyant

Every year thousands of students attend career fairs at universities and national conferences in pursuit of their careers. Although, these days, the economy has made it more difficult for prospective employees to secure positions, the presence of career fairs across the nation demonstrates the existing needs of companies to recruit new talent.

The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) recently held their 60th anniversary national conference in Orlando, Florida at the Orange County Convention Center. The highlight of this conference was, by far, the career fair. The fair had more than 5000 attendees and showcased over 220 employers currently seeking engineering, technical, and business-minded candidates. Companies included engineering giants such as GE and Caterpillar, financial institutions such as Deloitte and Goldman Sachs, non-profit organizations, and graduate schools. The fair provided networking opportunities galore for those daring enough to put themselves out there. There were seven University of Miami attendees who cumulatively secured nine on-site interviews and left valuable impressions on dozens of employers.
Some of the attendees of the career fair were in attendance for the first time. By asking questions and practicing, they were able to make the best of the fair:

What is the benefit of the career fair?

The primary purpose of the career fair is for a job-seeker to network and explore the types of opportunities available to him or her. One can perform web-searching and fill out online applications for weeks and never hear back. The career fair allows job seekers to speak directly with employers about their needs in the workforce. In turn, a career fair attendee can potentially secure on-site interviews, job offers, and general insights into the demands of the industry.

Don’t most employers tell me to make an online profile and send me on my way?

Employers will tell you to create an online profile in order to maintain equal opportunity-compliancy. However, putting a face to the online profile can make the difference. If the recruiter sincerely took an interest in you and would like to consider you for a position, it is possible for them to later look up your profile and personally recommend it to hiring managers. You will have the leg up on the mysterious face-less resumes they receive on a daily basis.

What am I supposed to do at a career fair?

  1. Practice your pitch. When you go up to a company booth, you need to properly introduce yourself to a prospective employer so that you can concisely tell them about yourself and why you want to be considered at their company. Making a good first impression is what will set the tone of your conversation. Try starting out with something like this:

    “Hello, my name is _________ and I am an experienced ________major in my ________ year of study at the University of Miami. I have related work/project experience at ________ company/university and I am looking for a/an (internship/fulltime position) at _______ Company. Do you have a few minutes to discuss opportunities with me?”

    Don’t forget to shake the recruiters hand and ALWAYS ask for a business card if you felt the conversation went well. (If the recruiter does not have business cards to give you, it’s fine, but it can never hurt to ask).

  2. Chart your path. For larger career fairs (100+ relevant companies), plan your intended path before going inside. Large career fairs can be distracting and disorienting, so planning is important to ensure that you talk to all of the employers that interest you. However, you can still leave time to speak with employers you have not considered before.
  3. Do your homework. Although, employers attend career fairs in order to increase exposure to candidates, they prefer that one knows at least a little about what they do. Make sure to at least read the program book description about the company so that you don’t go up to ANYONE and ask “So, what does your company do?” Recruiters don’t expect you to be an expert on their company, but they want to see that you have some interest in their company.
  4. DON’T ask for the onsite interview. Even though many employers host career fair interviews, they will decide when to offer the slots. If you work hard to make a favorable impression and closely match your experience to their desired qualifications, there is a good chance that you will be offered the slot. Be aware that these slots do fill quickly, and if you can’t quite make the slot at the fair, there are still opportunities with offsite and phone interviews with the company. If you make that good first impression, create the online profile the recruiters tell you to, and you may just be contacted later.
  5. Keep an open mind. Read the career fair program book, listen to what recruiters have to say, and you might just consider working for a company or in a field that you had not considered before.