How to Prepare for a Career Fair

Welcome to How to Prepare for a Career Fair. This is a video meant to give you some quick tips on attending the career fair and demystify the event for you a little bit.  UCS has several career fairs throughout the year. Some are organized by interest like the prehealth fair but we also have a general career fair each semester that represents different industries and companies of varying sizes. 

A common myth is that career fairs are for only for business students, but that is not true. We have companies in industries like construction, STEM, advertising and human resources just to name a few, and that’s in addition to those business industries. You also don’t have to be a graduating senior to attend because there are companies offering internships during this time too. Employers also want to see students of varying class levels and varying majors as well.

If you’ve never been to a career fair before this is a picture of what it looks like. Each employer has a table along with handouts and other information. Some companies will bring several employees while others will only have one, and they can either bring a recruiter or employees who work in a role that is similar to the one they are recruiting for.

Preparing for the career fair can be your greatest asset. Because of the amount of students and employers attending, it can really help you to be thoughtful on how to make the best use of your time. And it can help you with feeling confident when you are talking to an employer for the first time.

To get ideas on how to dress for the fair visit our Pinterest page where we have pinned tons of examples on what proper attire looks like. The general rule of thumb is that you can wear business casual when you are looking for an internship and that you should wear a suit when you’re looking for a full time job. Honestly there is no such thing as being under dressed and I encourage you to find out what the industry norms are for what you’re looking to get into when thinking about how to dress for the fair.  A few general tips is to be sure to wear a belt if you’re wearing pants, avoid wearing a skirt that is too tight or too short. Same advice goes for blouses. People will notice these types of things. Keep your facial hair neatly trimmed and your attire neatly pressed.  The way you dress is an expression of who you are, and if you have any concerns about dressing for the fair please come talk to a career counselor and we can talk through that with you. If finances are a concern when you’re dressing for the fair please know that we have a Styled for Success stipend through our office. You can find out more information about that by going onto our website.

You can find a list of employers who are going to the career fair on Handshake to help you decide who you want to talk to.  Expect to spend 3-5 minutes talking to each employer and think about the fact that some employers might have a line of students waiting to talk to them when you’re thinking about how much time you should factor into spending at the fair. If you’re able to, try to attend the fair earlier on in the day while recruiters are still fresh and haven’t already spent hours talking to students. There is going to be shorter lines at the tables too. Make a plan of attack. Look at the map to see where your target employers are, take a walk through when you get there just to get orientated and scope out the area of where your employers are.  Don’t feel that you have to approach them right away. Take a moment to think about what you practiced that you’d say and approach whenever you feel ready.

So start by making a list of employers you want to talk to so that you can make the most use of your time. When you’re done making this list do research on these companies. Figure out what they’re about, who they’re hiring for, what stands out about them.  You can use any of these resources to find out that information. The point of doing this research is so that you know a little bit about the company when you’re approaching a recruiter and you can avoid asking questions like “So what do you do? What is this company about? Or, what does your company make?” Questions like that gives them the impression that you’re not really interested in the company or the job but that you’re looking for just any job. I also suggest jotting down a few notes about each company in the padfolio you bring with you to the fair just so that you don’t have to try to memorize all of the information you found out about them.

Next is to get your resume in good shape. Get it reviewed by a few people while you’re going through this process.  Your resume is your trademark and when you feel confident about it you’re likely to feel more confident in approaching employers for the first time too.  We have tons of resume templates and examples on our website so feel free to use any of those for ideas. It’s hard to tailor your resume perfectly when you’re using it for a career fair but I recommend at least having a section called relevant experience where you can include things you’ve done that have given you transferrable skills to the field that you’re applying for. Look up a few job descriptions and see what qualifications they’re looking for, and make sure you include those qualifications or ones that are similar in your resume. Everyone’s situation is different so this is where career services can help you by meeting with a counselor to help you make your experiences stand out. For example, if you have had a professional job or prior career before you came to UNC, you bring this very unique skillset from past experiences that you may want to highlight.  If you are a student veteran you also bring this invaluable skillset from time you spent in service. The resume section on our website has tips on how to transfer your experience to a civilian resume so be sure to check that out. When you’re done putting your resume together use that employer list to decide how many copies of your resume you should print out and I would even print out a few extra copies just so that if you find another employer you want to talk to, you have a resume to hand to them.

You have to be the one to make the first move and approach an employer.  I know this can be intimidating the first time you do it but the good news is that that is what they’re here for.  They want to talk to you.  So to help you get your head in the game start by preparing and thinking about what’s awesome about you and honor your strengths. Think about what your strengths are, what skills the job is looking for, and the intersection of those two is what you are going to talk to employers about. Think about it this way. As a transfer student, you’ve already gone through the experience of navigating a new campus, new rules, new culture. You can use that to your advantage and talk to employers about how the ability to get up to speed at a new school has prepared you to do the same at a job or an internship. If you’ve already had a career prior to coming to UNC, that experience shows an employer that not only do they not have to train you on how to be an employee because you’ve done it for a few or many years already, but you have also spent quite a bit of time building up skills in this other career that are likely transferrable to your new career. If you’re a student veteran you likely have strong teamwork skills that any employer values. So honor your strengths as you prepare for the fair. If you’re not sure what your strengths are talk to someone that that you trust - family member, advisor, close friend and ask them how they would describe you to someone. Use their ideas in this case to help you prepare for your elevator pitch and again, think about where your strengths and the skills of the job intersect to help you decide how to match your interests and skills with the job.

The day of the fair, approach your target employers only after you feel warmed up. So this might mean talking to a few people to get your elevator pitch right and make a few adjustments if you need to.  Your elevator pitch is your introduction to the employer about who you are and why you’re there. It’s about a 30 second speech in length, so after you’re done with that it’s going to be much more of a back and forth conversation with the recruiter that you’re used to having.  You’ll start by introducing yourself with a firm handshake and tell them some key facts about you like what year you are or what your major is. Give them about, anywhere from 1-3 highlights on things that you’ve done. This can include past jobs, outside of the classroom involvement on campus or in your community. The key is to target those to the industry or the job. For example if you’re looking for a job in HR and you’ve worked front end sales at a retail store, talk to them about what customer service and relationship building skills you have. After you’re done sharing your highlights mention why you’re approaching them. Is it an internship or a job that you’re after? A good way to end an elevator pitch is with a question. That puts the ball back in their court to continue the conversation and takes the pressure off of you too.

Here are some examples of what an elevator pitch might look like. Feel free to pause here and take a more thorough read through each one.

Remember when you’re talking to employers smile as you give the employer a firm handshake. From the get go this shows them that you’re interested and confident before you even open your mouth.  Offer your resume to them at the end of your conversation and ask them for a business card so you can send them a follow-up thank you email. Again, plan to spend 3-5mins talking to each employer and before moving on. At the end reiterate your interest and thank them for their time, shake their hand again as a way to end the conversation.

Before you part ways, leave the door open for future interactions by asking one of these questions. These questions also give you something to mention in your thank you email that you’ll write to them later.  Sending a thank you email can solidify your presence in their mind and they will remember to look out for your application.

Hopefully these tips will help you to demystify the career fair process for you a little bit. As always know that we are here to practice your elevator pitch or talk through how to use your strengths in this situation.  Feel free to discuss any of these with a career counselor by making an appointment through Handshake. And good luck!