Navigating job fairs: Tips and tricks for finding the perfect job

Hundreds of fellow Tartans will be working the upcoming fair looking to stand out from the crowd and land a job. Kevin Collins, career consultant for the School of Computer Science and assistant director of the Career Center, shared his thoughts on how students can make the most out of their time at the TOC/BOC.

What to avoid

The biggest faux pas at a fair is talking about money. Collins stressed that asking about salaries and payment is “the worst thing a student could do.”
Such questions should be asked further in the applications process, never right up front. Something else to avoid is not knowing anything about the company a recruiter is representing. Not doing one’s homework beforehand puts one at a huge disadvantage and often annoys the recruiter as well.

As the 2010–2011 Carnegie Mellon Career Guide states, recruiters are not there to teach the applicants about what they do; they are there to “pre-screen applicants” and “promote their opportunities” within their company.

If the students do not have enough knowledge of what the recruiters have to offer, the students appear unprepared or ill-suited for the job. This may cause recruiters to look to more informed students for the position. A fair number of people are guilty of going to different booths just for the free stuff or “the swag,” as Collins put it. Google may have cool pens, but unless you are interested in a position at the company, it is best to avoid wasting not only your time and the recruiter’s time, but also avoid wasting time for those standing in line who are genuinely interested in working for the company.

Understand the recruiter’s job

One of the best ways to interact with a recruiter is to think like one, or rather to understand what their mission at a job fair is. Collins explained that job fairs serve as a way in which companies can get a “quick assessment of candidates” and can build upon the applicant pool for their company.

Collins also stated that job fairs “serve as a way for students to get on the company’s radar and for recruiters to remember them,” building a connection that aids in the application process. As Collins explained, the students whom recruiters are bound to notice and remember are “those who have a really good sense of what they can offer a company and know what sets them apart from others.” He further elaborated that these students have examples of what they excel at and hone in on such examples when talking to recruiters.

Sell yourself quickly

One way in which students can hone in on what they are good at and make recruiters notice them is by practicing and perfecting the art of a quick pitch, also known as an “elevator” or “30-second commercial” pitch. The Job Fair Success Guide located in the Career Center provides detailed examples and a checklist that can be used to perfect your pitch and get across who you are in the shortest time possible. An online version of the Job Fair Success Guide also exists on the website of the Career Center.

The guide suggests among other things that an elevator pitch should make connections to the student’s résumé, show familiarity with the company, and also that the pitch should be practiced so it sounds normal and unforced. “It is all about selling yourself and knowing what works best for you,” Collins said.

Consider the market

The last thing to keep in mind is the condition of the job market right now. When asked about the number of students expected to attend the TOC/BOC, Collins stated that he felt more students would be attending the fair this time. As Collins stated, students “are conscious of the need for experience.” He added that “all people are being more proactive [about employment] at all job fairs, not just the TOC/BOC.”

Such realities mean that one should not be discouraged if attending the job fair does not result in employment.
By talking with career counselors like Collins, students can find lots of different opportunities available besides those present at the TOC/BOC.

Other information on how to be successful at job fairs can be found in the Career Center, located in the lower l
evel of the University Center, as well as at www.studentaffairs.cmu.edu/career/.