A line of well-dressed students clinging to resumes weaves around a crowded auditorium. You join the queue and wait anxiously for what feels like hours to earn your 30 seconds of speaking to a recruiter. Finally, the person in front of you has finished their prepared speech, and you step forward, extending your hand for a handshake ...
And then what?
How can you force employers to notice you at career fairs? Here are 9 tips to help you stand out among your peers.
1. Attend workshops
Your university career service offices may offer workshops to help you prepare for career fairs. These workshops can help you create the documents you will need for the fair, explain how to network and give you career fair strategies that help you stand out from other candidates.
Take advantage of these workshops and the valuable information you will receive that others may miss out on.
2. Plan, plan, plan
Before you go to a career fair, make sure to plan out your trip. Who will be there that you want to talk to? Take the time to research each company or organization that you plan to speak with -- most places have a website teeming with basic information that you can use to impress recruiters. Make every recruiter feel like your top choice.
If you end up passing a booth that looks interesting, sneak out and look them up on your phone; it is very important to know who you are talking to and to appear competent.
3. Create an elevator pitch
Create an "elevator pitch" to describe yourself quickly and succinctly to recruiters. This is a 30-second speech that summarizes who you are, what you do and why you would make a good candidate for that company. Click here for tips on creating the perfect elevator pitch.
4. Prepare some questions
Develop a list of a few questions to ask the person you will be speaking with. These questions should not be about basic information that you could easily read on the company's website. Instead, form questions that include how your skills will be valuable to that particular company or ask questions about something you read on the website to show you have done your research.
5. Bring plenty of resume copies
Bring copies of your resume to hand out to employers that are accepting them. Be prepared to create a few different resumes depending on the type of position that you are applying for. You do not want to give an employer or recruiter a resume that has nothing to do with the position they are hiring for.
6. Dress professionally
This may sound basic, but it proves important to show that you put in the effort to dress up for the fair. If you want to be noticed, wearing shorts and a t-shirt is not the way to go. Dress like you would if you were working for a professional business.
Business casual is appropriate for most job fairs, which means slacks and a collared shirt for men and slacks or a skirt and blouse for women. Avoid excessive jewelry or clothing that is too short or revealing. If you dress like you are serious, people will treat you like you are serious.
Photo by snre on flickr.com
7. Exude confidence
Attitude is everything. One of the fastest ways to turn off a recruiter is by appearing overly nervous. Try to downplay your nerves by looking people in the eye, decreasing your use of words such as "um" or "ah" and by knowing what you want to tell the recruiter.
If you appear too nervous about talking to the recruiter, how will this translate in the recruiter's mind to you working for them? Remember that you know your accomplishments and why you deserve the job you want -- you only need to translate this confident yet humble attitude to the recruiter.
8. Express leadership
Employers desire candidates who can prove they are leaders. Think about the different leadership roles you have played in your university. Do you play a leadership role in a student organization or in a volunteer position?
Also, think about what you do outside of school. Do you have a job that lets you take part in leadership roles? Think about if you have ever trained or tutored someone in any capacity. Leadership skills translate into the career world.
9. Send a thank-you note
Send a brief note or email to the employers you spoke with at the fair to reiterate your interest in the position opening. Taking the time to thank employers for speaking with you will let them know you paid attention, are serious about the job and are the right person for the position.
Now, go out there and get noticed at your next career fair.