How to Make the Most of Career Fairs and Networking as a College Student

During your years as an undergrad student, you will encounter several career fairs and other networking opportunities. The problem is that no one ever taught you how to prepare for, or what to do at these events. Your professors and your parents tell you to “build a network” and “explore career options,” but what does that really look like? From what to wear to what to say, below are tips and tricks for making the most of career fairs and/or networking events as a college student.

Preparing for the event:

Researching the companies

Don’t worry, it’s not another research paper. Doing research on the companies that will be attending the event is the best preparation you can do and it takes five minutes. Your school should provide a list of the companies attending and checking out each company’s website for information on who they are and what they do can help you narrow down which tables you want to start with and spend the most time at. You can jot down some notes of important information about each company to keep with you at the event so you aren’t going to each table completely empty-handed. This can also help you tailor your 30-second pitch for each company.

Developing your 30-second pitch

You may have heard of the ‘30-second pitch’ in one of your career classes. This is basically how you introduce yourself as an emerging professional to potential employers. First, you cover the basics: your name, what year you are in school, and your major. Next, you want to be able to articulate what you are specifically interested in or skilled at pertaining to your major. Lastly, if you have any relevant experience, you should elaborate on that.

Example: “Hi, my name is [first and last name], and I am graduating in [graduation month and year], with a degree in [degree name]. Last year, I interned for a [company type or position title], for [amount of time]. I enjoy [skills you learned and enjoyed].

Having these few sentences prepared is a great way to make a solid first impression- and make sure to have several copies of your up-to-date resume to leave on the tables.

Dressing professionally

Move aside sweatpants, it’s time to make room in your closet for professional attire. Slacks, knee-length skirts, suit jackets, button-up shirts, and conservative blouses are just some of the staple items you will have to start keeping on hand for recruiting and networking events.

Pro tip: invest in a travel steamer. Having one will save your life when it comes to your professional attire. Wearing wrinkled clothing is the best way to make a bad impression. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression, make it a good one.

Don’t forget the shoes. A pair of nice shoes is one of the more expensive things on the must-have list. Try looking at the outfits you have and figure out what color shoe goes with the majority of them before investing in a pair.

Deciding on hair, makeup and jewelry

Make sure your hair is clean, brushed, and neat. If you have long hair, you may want to consider clipping some of it back or sporting a neat low bun or ponytail so that you are not tempted to play with it while you are speaking to potential employers.

If you don’t usually wear makeup, don’t feel pressured to do so! You want to make sure you feel natural and comfortable. If you are a person who does wear makeup often, just keep in mind that this is a career fair, not a Friday night out, so stick with a neutral color palette.

Keep your jewelry simple as well, and remember that some companies have stricter jewelry policies, so less is more. If you have visible piercings, taking them out is a good idea because you don’t know what is acceptable at each company. Avoid any distracting bracelets or necklaces because you want your personality and skills to be the thing recruiters remember about you.

Attending the event:

Start early and attend often

You may be thinking, “I’m just a freshman. I don’t need to go to recruiting or networking events yet.” But, making connections before it’s crunch time can be the best thing for your career. When it comes time to apply for an internship or your first full-time position after graduation, you will be thankful that you have a relationship with recruiters and managers at several companies. The more you attend career fairs, the more the companies will start to recognize your name and face, which is the quickest way for your resume to get to the top of the review stack.

Keep in mind that your school is not the only place to network. Look online for recruiting and networking events around your city. For example, the St. Louis Business Journal holds several networking events for women in business throughout the year.

Questions to ask recruiters

The questions you ask at these events are to show your interest in the company and/or to learn about opportunities they may have for you. Here are some general questions that you can have ready:

  1. Will you be hiring interns this spring/summer? – If so, how many and in what areas?
  2. How often do interns transition to full-time employment?
  3. Ask about your specific field at the company – What does the [field name], team look like here? How many people make up the [field name] staff?
  4. What is on the horizon for the company in the next few years?
  5. What do you feel makes your company different?

After the event:

Thank you notes go a long way. Not only do they show that you are appreciative of the recruiter’s time, but it also helps them remember your name. While you’re at a company’s booth, ask for a business card of the person you spoke to, or at least write down their full name. This way you can either send a hand-written note, email, or you can request to connect with them on LinkedIn. Adding recruiters on LinkedIn is a great way for them to keep up with where you are in school, and for you to know when they are hiring.

Your thank you note will be more meaningful and help you stand out if you mention a specific topic that the recruiter spoke with you about. For instance, if you talked about the culture of the company in detail, mention that in your note so that the recruiter may remember who they are receiving the note from.

Here is an example of what to say in a thank you note:

Dear [recruiter’s name],

Thank you for taking the time to attend the [university name] career fair and to speak with me about your company. I was very impressed with the details you gave me about the company’s culture and how employees relate to one another. I will be on the lookout for future opportunities at [company name]!

Thank you,

[your name]

If you are connecting on LinkedIn, make sure to send a message with your connection request:

Hi [recruiter’s name],

We spoke at the [university name] career fair and I would like to stay connected so I don’t miss any future opportunities at your company. I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me about [conversation topic]. Thank you!

These tips and tricks will help you make the most of any career fair or recruiting event, and you are sure to be a memorable student. So, prepare, attend, and leave a great impression to kick start your career!