Making the Most out of Career Fairs
Current position: Postdoctoral fellow in Alzheimer’s disease, Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics Department
Program start date: March 2016
Institution: Boston University School of Medicine
Career Fairs are a great opportunity to make connections and explore employment possibilities. Rather than going to a career fair looking for a job, think of it more as an occasion for information gathering and networking. Below, I outline some tips for making the most of your career fair experience.
1. Before the Fair
As with any networking event, it’s good to do some research beforehand. Most events will provide a list of companies that will have representatives at the event—use this to figure out what a given company does, and if you’re interested in that type of work. This method can be especially useful before a large fair to help you decide which tables you want to visit and in what order. If you are curious to learn more about a company, use the research period to come up with some questions to ask the representatives at the fair. This way, you can demonstrate a knowledge of and interest in the company, which gives you the ability to better connect with its employees. Additionally, having specific questions prepared ahead of time allows you to gain more useful information and make yourself more attractive—the representatives will likely feel more engaged by someone who already knows a bit about their employer. Furthermore, if you have a more specific idea of the roles you are interested in, the employees may be able to connect you with someone in those roles or the hiring manager for that department.
Once you have done your research, tailor your CV or resume a bit to fit the types of roles you want to talk to the company representatives about. Try to keep this document concise; a lot of resumes will be flying around at these events, so you want to make sure your salient details are easy to find and read. Generally, I would say keep this document under three pages long, and less than that is probably better. Don’t worry about getting everything on to the page either; once you are talking to an employee, if something you’ve done is really important you can tell the representative about it. Bonus points if the rep then writes that information down on your resume—that probably means they’re interested!
If you haven’t done so already, get yourself some business cards. Not everyone is going to want a resume, you might network with a fellow attendee, or you might run out of resumes. Usually you can get business cards through your academic institution at little or no cost. Otherwise, there are many websites where you can design and print business cards for yourself.
2. The Day of the Fair
On the day of a career fair, I pack my bag and choose an outfit that’s a bit different than what I usually wear to lab.
As for the outfit, I always recommend business attire. The representatives you talk to won’t necessarily also be wearing this level of formal clothing, but it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed. Ideally, your outfit will strike a balance between professional and memorable, so that you will stand out in the crowd—in a good way. If possible, avoid wearing all black. Black is the default option for many people, so wearing at least a colored shirt will help you to stick in peoples memory. Obviously, you want to keep things professional, but a pop of color, or a blue or white jacket will do. Alternately, a colorful tie, or even bow tie (if you can pull it off) can make you memorable. An interesting necklace will also do the trick. Avoid dangling earrings, and cover tattoos if possible. If you’re going to wear make up, keep it natural looking.
In my bag for the day I always bring floss, mints, pens, a folio with a pad, copies of my CV, business cards, and a mirror. This way I can make sure I’m presentable on my way to the fair, and am able to take notes about the people I meet and companies I learn about.
3. At the Fair
Some career fairs can be packed, with seemingly millions of people waiting to talk to representatives. This is where your research can be really helpful to you. Instead of making a representative repeat their same spiel, you can tell them what you know about their company and ask direct questions about your areas of interest! This may impress the employee, and this tactic will save both of you time. Furthermore, having your research done allows you to maximize the number of representatives you can talk to.
While you’re standing in line, also keep an ear to the conversation going on ahead of you. In this way, you might get some of your questions answered or even hear things you didn’t know that end up being useful. When it is your turn to talk to the representative, you could follow up on this type of knowledge by saying something like, “I couldn’t help overhearing X, can you tell me more about it?”
This brings me to my next point: always be polite to everyone you meet; remember that this is a professional setting and potential recruiters will notice your behavior. Also, for this reason, always ask if you can give someone your resume or business card rather than just handing it over. Try to be cognizant of how long your conversation has been going on. If a long line is forming behind you but you still have a lot of questions, mention this to the representative and ask if you could email them your remaining questions or even set up a phone call. This approach can also be useful for building a relationship with a representative, as it continues the conversation after the event is over.
4. After the Fair
Finally, make sure that after the event, you follow up on any leads and connections you find at the fair. Even if you don’t have follow up questions, it’s great to send an email expressing a desire to keep in touch, summarizing your conversation, and mentioning how much you enjoyed talking to the representative. It’s best if you do have a follow up question, as this fosters a continuing dialogue. I also like to add the people I meet to my network on LinkedIn— this is useful not only for staying in touch, but also allows you to see if you have any shared connections. When sending the Linked In request be sure and personalize it. These recruiters will get many of these requests and may not accept your invite if you do not remind them of who you are and how you met.
In summary, to be successful at career fairs, do your research, be concise, be memorable, be polite, and always follow through. Happy networking!
What have been your experiences at career fairs? Please comment with your tips and success stories.