The nerves are high-strung, the newly revised resumes get printed, and the suits come out of the closet (or the roommate’s). Thus approaches that daunting event of year. The career fair.
If you’re a freshman or if you haven’t been to a career fair before, it can sound like your worst nightmare, especially if you’re an introvert. Don’t worry, I’ve been there. I’ve been the newbie that had no idea what she was doing. I’ve tackled the terrible anxiety gnawing in my stomach. I’ve talked to the less-than-engaging recruiters who really wanted to go on lunch break 3 hours ago. And because of all the overwhelming anxiety and awkward moments I went through, I wanted to share a few pieces of advice that you won’t read in your typical career fair handout or hear at one of those preparation panels.
Go to company presentations. In general, companies will have information sessions a day or two before the career fair. These consist of the recruiters giving an hour or so presentation and opening the floor for questions afterward. Being able to get to know the recruiters in a casual atmosphere before I talked to them at the career fair was incredibly helpful. This is probably the number one thing that prepared me for my first career fair experience.
Don’t rehearse a canned speech. Although it is great to have planned out what you are going to say to recruiters, don’t write it down, memorize it, and reel it off as soon as you hand a recruiter you resume. Instead, simply introduce yourself, tell them what you have found interesting about their company and the position, and then ask questions. Let the conversation flow naturally, and don’t dominate it. You need to learn about the company just as much as they need to learn about you.
Don’t be a know-it-all. Trust me, recruiters can smell the overly ambitious recruits and they know exactly what questions to ask to make them feel incompetent; I’ve seen it happen. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do your research and be prepared to talk about the company, but don’t jump the gun and test the recruiter to see if they know as much about the company as you do. Sorry, but they don’t think it’s humorous, and it probably won’t get you an interview.
Approach the lonely recruiter. When you get to the fair you’ll know who I’m talking about. You’ll see lengthy lines extending across half the room behind company tables such as Amazon, PepsiCo, and P&G. These are the companies with big names and great reputations. Everyone knows who they are and would love to work for them. That is why you will spend upwards of an hour in one of those lines just waiting to converse with a recruiter. On the other side of the spectrum are the companies you may not have ever heard of. However, most of these companies are super important players in their industries (because Purdue brings in top-notch companies); they just aren’t industries that we as consumers come into contact with, such as inter-modal shipping or molecule manufacturing. Often those recruiters will have absolutely no one in line and would love to talk to anyone. So go talk to them! Even if you don’t have any idea what their company does. These recruiters will have much more time to get to know you and tell you about their company and they will appreciate your interest far more than the recruiter who has already talked to one-hundred plus students.
Don’t make it a race. Try and set aside at least a couple hours for the career fair. That way you won’t feel rushed and you will have time to take a break if you need to. Give yourself plenty of time to take everything in once you get there. Take a lap around the entire room and familiarize yourself with the various companies and gauge the length of the lines. Say “Hi” to friends and colleagues you run into. This will help you relax and have some fun. But don’t use them as a crutch by teaming up and talking to recruiters together. Recruiters want to see that you are independent, and you need to know that too. Wait until you feel comfortable to approach your first recruiter. And don’t forget to let your personality show as much as possible!