Freshman 101: Career Fair Dos And Don’ts
Career fairs are one of the most valuable resources Penn State has to offer. The university brings hundreds of companies that want to hire Penn Staters for their jobs and internships they want to give students, and puts them all in one place for three days. It’s stressful, sure — a bad career fair can feel like a lot of preparation for little payoff, but a good one can lead to the sweet relief of knowing what you’ll be doing for the summer or full-time after graduation. As someone who has been to far too many career fairs in my three years, here’s some advice for a successful career fair session.
Do: Research companies before you go. It doesn’t need to be a ton of research usually, but knowing at the very least what the company does and any recent headlines will add value to your conversation with a company rep.
Don’t: Just memorize facts and spit them at recruiters. As much as preparation is important, no recruiter wants to hear you rattle off facts about their company. Tying some relevant facts in when describing what makes the company attractive to you is typically a good way to go.
Do: Go as a freshman even if you don’t need or want a job or internship. Though many companies aren’t looking to hire first-years, you gain important experience in just preparing for the fair talking with a recruiter for the first time and it helps you get a feel of what you should say, do, or have prepared for the future.
Don’t: Get disheartened when you get shut-down as a first-semester freshman. Sometimes when you tell a company your year they’ll say, “Sorry, we aren’t looking for freshmen,” and that’s okay! If it’s a company you really want to work for in the future, the recruiter can remember you and it may help your odds next year. Plus, when you need an internship later in your academic career, you won’t be talking to a recruiter for the first time ever.
Do: Bring your resume. Get it reviewed prior hitting the BJC or other, smaller fair and make sure it’s the best it can be. While your resume isn’t the end-all-be-all, it’s often a recruiter’s first look at you and your accomplishments. Always bring five more than you think you’ll need.
Don’t: Lead off by handing the recruiter your resume. Start a conversation, introduce yourself, and have a conversation. If you impress the recruiters, they’ll ask for your resume.
Do: Get clear instructions about how to apply for the job, or what the next steps in the process are. No matter how good you are on the day of the fair, if you don’t do what’s required to move forward, you can’t be considered.
Don’t: Take too much time with a recruiter. Obviously it’s important to make a good impression and stand out, but with more than 40,000 students and only so many recruiters, every minute at the career fair is valuable. Too much time and you slow everything down, which isn’t only bad for everyone else, but might also annoy the recruiter, who knows he or she has a lot more people to talk to.
Do: Be confident and be yourself. At the end of the day, these interactions could be the first step in securing a job or internship, so confidence is key. Making sure you’re being the real you important to making sure you find a company whose culture fits your personality, because as much as they need to want you, you should also need to want them.
Don’t: Be arrogant or overconfident. There’s nothing wrong with talking about your accomplishments, they’ll be crucial in trying to secure an offer. But if your experience really is that great it will speak for itself, recruiters can see right through cockiness.
Do: Try to connect with the recruiter. Often times making personal connections can help the recruiter remember you when it comes time to select people for interviews.
Don’t: Be unprofessional. Sure, personal connections are great, but talking about how drunk you got this weekend probably won’t score you any points with the recruiter and will likely leave you jobless.
Do: Take as much free stuff as you can. As long as it doesn’t interfere with you being professional, you deserve the free stuff for putting up with the stress and anxiety of a career fair.
- Give yourself plenty of time. It takes a significant chunk of your day to trek down to the BJC, find the companies you’re planning to talk to, wait in line, talk to the recruiters, and then prepare for the next company.
- Talk to a “practice” company when you first get to the fair to get the jitters out. The career fair can be overwhelming and you don’t want to go in cold on your most-desired company. Pick somewhere you wouldn’t mind working and do your research on them, but don’t worry if it’s awkward or things don’t work out.
- Skip class if you have to, especially if you’re an upperclassmen. While we’re not condoning skipping your classes, the career fair is important and is only held for five (particularly inconvenient) hours once a semester. Most teachers will understand and unless you have an assessment or mandatory attendance there’s no harm in missing a single lecture.
- Take the bus (or, pro tip, the campus shuttle) to the BJC if you can. It’s still pretty toasty out and you don’t want to be sweating through your shirt before talking to potential employers.
- The floor of the BJC is packed with lines and people talking to recruiters. Try your best to avoid weaving between a student talking to a recruiter because it could throw off their game, and how would you appreciate that?
- If you don’t go to the career fair, not all hope is lost! A lot of colleges and departments host their own fairs and most companies have applications on line. Just because you didn’t get any interviews from the fair doesn’t mean you’ll be unemployed forever.
Best of luck to those venturing to the various Penn State career fairs this week and beyond.
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