Seminar provides advice on how to be successful at career fairs

With hordes of students pushing their way through a maze of potential recruiters, job fairs can be overwhelming. The Employment Opportunities Conference (EOC) has 137 registered companies and is spread out across two rooms — Wiegand Gym and Rangos Hall. In order to make this seemingly daunting task of navigating through the job fair while simultaneously making a good impression on the recruiters seem easier, the Carnegie Mellon Career Center presented a seminar on how to be successful at a job fair. Presented by Sonjala Williams, assistant director at the Carnegie Mellon Career Center, the seminar provided tips on what students should do to prepare for the job fair, how they should approach recruiters during the fair, and what steps they should take after the fair is over.

Preparing for the job fair

“Preparation is key to success,” Williams said. She added that the first priority of the students should be to develop a “clean, concise, error-free résumé.”
Students can also seek help from the career center regarding their résumés and have their résumés approved by a Career Center adviser. It is also important to carry multiple copies of their résumé to the job fair.

The next important point that Williams mentioned is to research the companies that you want to approach at the job fair. As Williams said, the students should have “enough information [about the companies] to have an intelligent conversation” with recruiters. Another useful tip is to write down a few questions about the company to ask the representatives. Williams also added that students should rank the companies according to their preferences. She compared the ranking process to the ranking process while applying to universities. “Like college,” Williams said, “[you should have your] top priorities and safeties.” A student should know what each specific company is looking for and why they are the right fit for the company. Students should also know how to project themselves to the recruiters and make sure that the recruiters realize the value of the student.
As Williams said, you should know how to “sell yourself.” Williams recommended that the students prepare a “30–to–60 second commercial” about themselves. This statement should include what type of internships the student is looking for and why they are a good candidate.

Lastly, it is important to dress properly for the fair. Williams said that a general rule of thumb during interviews was to “dress two notches above what the interviewers would wear.”
For the EOC, the safest dress code would be business professional. The career center has a closet full of clean, donated business suits that students who do not have suits can use.
Williams also cautioned students not to “overdo it” while dressing for the fair. Excessive makeup or perfume could turn the recruiters away rather than impress them.

What to do at the job fair

Although many students might be coming to the job fair after or before classes, they should avoid carrying coats or bags into the fair.
Coats and bags not only weigh one down while walking through two levels of booths, but are also awkward to handle while talking to recruiters.
A simple folder with multiple résumés and a pen is all one should carry. Williams added that before entering the fair, it is important to look at a copy of the map of the booth setup and know which booths to approach first.

Using the first half-hour or so to take a quick look around the fair is also a good idea. After getting a general feel for the fair, one should start approaching the top companies.
When approaching a booth, never go in a group. Students have to show recruiters that they are unique, and going together in a group defies this purpose.
While talking to recruiters, Williams advised students to “be conversational and confident.” Non-verbal cues are as important as verbal ones. “Make sure you’re exhibiting good body language,” Williams added.

A useful tip that Williams gave was to write something specific about your conversation with the recruiter on the back of your résumé before handing it to them. This will help the recruiters identify your résumé from among the tons of résumés that they receive. Williams also added that students should never be arrogant while talking to the companies.
The worst attitude to have is that “I’m great, they should want me, I’m CMU.” Humility and politeness matter as much as having excellent credentials. Williams asked the students to not simply go around and collect all the freebies. This not only bogs down the students, but also creates a negative impression of them. Lastly, Williams advised students to collect as many business cards as they can. These will be useful in contacting the recruiters in the future.

What to do after the fair is over

Sadly, the work does not stop once the fair is over; it only increases. Williams reiterated the importance of following up with companies. Sending thank-you notes to all the companies you talked to is a must. Williams added that the notes should be sent 24 to 48 hours after the job fair and could be e-mails or even paper letters.
She explained the importance of taking notes during the fair so that the students can write something specific about the conversation they had with the recruiters in the letter.
Following up with the companies to make sure that they know you are interested in the position is crucial. Williams stressed that students should not be shy while trying to contact the companies.

Williams said that “you have the right to follow up” and ask the companies whether the position is still open. It is also great to follow up by sending the company resume updates or additions to one’s portfolio. Williams concluded the seminar by telling the students that at the job fair, they are all ambassadors of Carnegie Mellon University. “If [the recruiters] come and have a great experience here, they will want to come back again,” Williams said.