As you may have already learned, job-hunting as a student can be extremely challenging. How do you find out what learnerships are available? What companies should you apply to? How do you stand out above the rest of the applicants, when there are 100 others who are just as qualified as you?
There are so many questions to ask and even more answers to give. That’s what career fairs are for. Career fairs are a perfect way for students and job seekers to meet with recruiters, learn about job openings, pass along their resumes, and (hopefully) get their foot in the door. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go prepared.
Here are 5 big questions to ask yourself before attending a career fair:
Is My Resume Updated?
The very first thing you should do when you are on the lookout for a job – any type of job (part-time work, learnership, post-university career) – is review and update your resume. This includes jobs you have worked, organizations or clubs you have participated in, your objective, your education, awards and achievements, and maybe even relevant classes and seminars. As a student and/or learnership seeker, you will find that there is more flexibility in terms of what type of content you can use on a resume. This is because you are young and learnerships are technically where the most valuable resume line-items begin.
What most don’t do – but should – is tailor their resume to the job they are applying for, if able. This is something that becomes more necessary with time and experience, but it’s a good thing to practice as you search and apply for learnerships. What does tailoring your resume do for you and your prospective employer? It shows what specific experience you have that relates to the job you are applying for, rather than listing each and every role, class and achievement you have had. For example, if you are applying for a learnership at a local newspaper, it would be smart to list the relevant writing/journalism/reporting courses you took at university. Don’t go overboard with that, though.
Before attending the career fair, be sure to print 10 to 20 copies of your updated resume to distribute to representatives you are interested in working with/for.
What Companies Are Attending?
Career fairs vary in size and can be surprisingly big. Really big. Depending on the location and regularity of fairs in your area, there could be hundreds of companies participating or there could be 30-50. There could be a couple hundred prospective employees in attendance or there could be thousands, all doing the exact same thing you are. Because time is limited, and because it’s best not to wander around aimlessly, do your research before you button up your blouse and head on down to the fair location.
First, ask yourself what type of position(s) you would be interested in learning about. Are you hard-set on getting an accounting job? Or are you exploring the business world in general, open to learning about other fields such as finance, economics, actuarial, and marketing? Next, find a list of companies that will be there and determine what jobs have openings. A major insurance company could be coming but they may only be offering general business learnership positions rather than insurance-specific learnerships. Strange, I know, but it happens.
Compile a list of no less than 10 companies that you want to talk with and submit your resume to. You may even find a fair map to figure out where their stands will be located so that you don’t need to waste time searching them out.
What Is the Schedule?
Career fairs typically operate for a good portion of the day to accommodate the busy schedules of students and workers. Sometimes they are even multi-day events. This is because recruiters want their pick from the cream of the crop just as much as you want them to notice you.
The next time a career fair comes to town, find out what the schedule is and determine how it fits into yours. If you can be there at the very beginning, do it. When people are introduced to large groups, they tend to remember the first and last people that they meet. This is not to say that a recruiter won’t remember you if you meet them mid-day, it just means that you may have to work even harder to stick out to them. Arriving in the hustle and bustle with ten other candidates to your left and right can be intimidating. They are your competition, after all. Rather than putting yourself in a situation where you feel like you have to throw elbows to be seen, show up as the fair is opening and be among the first to hit your top companies. It goes hand-in-hand with making a good first impression because it shows that you are punctual and determined.
What Do I Want To Know & What Do I Want Them To Know?
Conversations with recruiters can happen very fast. One second you are next in line to talk to the company representative, and the next you are shaking their hand, passing off your resume and telling them it was nice to meet them. This is especially so when career fairs are at their peak, with hundreds of candidates milling around, waiting for their turn.
Alongside your “companies, I want to hit” list, write down what you want to learn about the company and the learnership position. Additionally, think about what key characteristics and experience you have that makes you the best fit for the role. The conversation you have will serve as a sort of cover letter. You need to sell yourself and fast. Know what you are going to say and what you want to know before you even arrive.
What Am I Going To Wear To a Career Fair?
First impressions mean a whole lot in the learnership world. While recruiters are a bit more understanding that young students may not have the most impressive professional wardrobe, you should still try to dress your best. Now, what is appropriate dress for a career fair? Easy. Wear what you would wear to the office. For men, slacks, a button-up shirt, loafers and a tie would be perfect. For women, a conservative blouse, a pencil skirt or slacks, and a pair of heels or flat shoes would work well.
Only have one business-style outfit reserved for church and the holidays? That’s what you should wear, even if it feels dressier than what others are wearing. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. Don’t own anything appropriate enough for a career fair? Ask a parent, aunt, uncle, sibling, cousin, ANYONE close to you if they have something you may borrow for the big day. They’ll likely be happy to support you as you prepare to enter the working world.
My mother always told me, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”