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Mastering College Career Fairs

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Make sure you ask lots of questions at college career fairs.

Make sure you ask lots of questions at college career fairs.

College career fairs can be an excellent way to explore different careers and make connections with prospective employers. For each year of your college career, there is a different way to approach career fairs. Before starting, it's important to know when to go to career fairs, what to bring, and what to wear. You'll be making your first impression and practicing your interview skills, so be prepared before you go!

Freshman Year

Ideally, you should go to job fairs any chance you get, even if you aren't currently looking for a job. If you decide to go to career fairs your freshman year, don't put too much pressure on yourself. I got myself way too psyched up for my first career fair. I ended up just being a shaky, sweaty mess and not talking to anyone.

No need to worry so much; you probably haven't even declared your major yet, so it will be difficult to pinpoint what sort of job you might want. Just go to the fair with an open mind. You can bring your resume if you want but at this point it's not essential. It's more important that you go to many booths and engage with lots of different people.

And don't be afraid to ask questions! This is your chance to gather information about careers you're interested in. I found it best to jot down some questions beforehand so that I wouldn't get tongue-tied.

Sophomore Year

The same guidelines apply to your sophomore year, except now you may have a more solid idea of what you want to do. This time, you'll want to seek out more specific booths and ask more in-depth questions. Since I stayed in the area after my sophomore year, I brought along my résumé so I could look for a summer job.

Junior and Senior Year

Your junior and senior years are when college career fairs get more serious, because you're actually beginning to look for jobs. The connections you'll make at the fair are more important. Spend more time at fewer booths, and really engage whoever is running them. They may be interviewing you in a couple months!

Your dress should be business or business casual and have someone look over your résumé. You'll also want to bring a notepad that has a folder in it so you can take notes and collect business cards. I had a folder specifically for the fair, so I could keep all my information organized and in one place.

Before I went to fairs, I always did research on the organizations and companies that would be there. First, I would look up each company's goals and mission to familiarize myself with what they are all about. To find some talking points, read some of their recent press releases. Companies will be impressed if they can tell that you're interested enough to have done research.

I tried to slip in little tidbits of information that indicated I had been reading up on the company. This is also a great way to keep the conversation flowing naturally. At the end of the conversation, I asked for business cards so I could have the booth operator's contact information and write a followup email thanking them. I reminded them of our conversation to help me stand out among the hundreds of people they met that day.

No matter where you are in your college career, make sure you get enough sleep the night before, show up early, make eye contact, shake hands firmly, and remember that these people are excited to meet and talk with you! Good luck!

Photo Source: Flickr