Career Fair Mindset, Tips, and Tricks
Career Fairs are exciting and stressful and a little exhausting all at the same time. There’s great swag, great potential and a lot of nerves. In the past, I was nervous to walk up to recruiters. Would they figure out I didn’t know enough to work for them? Would they ask me a technical question on the spot that I wouldn’t be able to answer? Would they find a typo in my carefully edited resume? How could I possibly communicate my value in only a few minutes? Over the past few years, I’ve been to so many big career fairs and had a sneak peek into the recruiting side of things. In this post, I will be sharing all of my tips and tricks, as well as how to shift from hoping you are good enough to knowing you are valuable, and seeking out companies that recognize that.
I am so excited to share this post in collaboration with InternX https://www.theinternx.com/ (not sponsored, I just love this concept!). InternX is a startup that gives you an upper hand at career fairs. It allows you to create an extensive profile that employers can view ahead of a career fair. Participating companies can set up a time to meet you at the career fair so you can skip the awkward “elevator pitch” stage. It’s like a FastPass for career fairs!
InternX is also working to address my biggest career fair issue! How do I communicate my leadership, communication and project management skills, as well as the fact that people like working with me? InternX has teamed up with Traitify so you can take a personality assessment and include it in your profile. This allows companies to search for candidates who exemplify things like social and emotional intelligence! Be sure to check them out at https://www.theinternx.com/!
The first thing I want to discuss is what I’ve learned about career fair dynamics. My old mindset was that companies were only looking for the best, and recruiters would judge me if I didn’t have the same technical knowledge as them… Then I learned something….these companies pay, sometimes in the $50,000 range, to be at this career fair recruiting. That doesn’t include paying the recruiters and HR staff that review resumes later and schedule follow-ups. These companies want you. They want to walk away with a bunch of amazing engineers, and they are excited to meet you and learn about your experience.
I’ve also come to realize that recruiters make no judgment on you as a person. I used to worry about looking stupid in front of recruiters. I now know that their questions serve to understand what you know and how that fits with what their company is looking for. I was so excited to talk to one company in my junior year but was really disappointed when the recruiter barely glanced at my resume. Then she said they were only looking for 1 sophomore student. It wasn’t my lack of experience or GPA, she simply saw my graduation date and knew that my timeline did not match theirs.
Career fairs should be a learning experience. Learn about the company and your recruiter’s job. Get a feel for the company culture! Refine your elevator pitch! See some cool demos and get some cool swag! What you think of yourself and your value as an engineer should depend 0% on whether a recruiter schedules an interview with you.
Now, on to the nitty gritty details. Here are my tips beyond what you find on google…
- Dress professionally but dress like yourself. Your clothes should communicate that you care about the company and put some thought into how you present yourself. They should be appropriate (length, # of buttons undone etc.) but it does not have to be a black suit.
- Bring multiple copies of your one page, updated and edited, black and white resume. Most companies scan resumes so they don’t have to keep up with paper copies. Black and white will ensure that it scans properly.
- Do your research! This one is so important. You should NEVER walk up to a company and ask “So, what do y’all do?” and yet I hear this multiple times at every conference I go to. Figure out a basic amount of information on what the company does, and pick one area of interest. You should start off more like “I know your company does X, Y, and Z and I’m really interested in Z. Could you tell me more about the opportunities in that area?”
- Plan your route through the career fair. Especially at large events such as SWE, you likely won’t talk to every company. Make a list and start with the company you are least interested in. This gives you a chance to practice your elevator pitch and settle your nerves.
- Take a break. Have a snack. Career fairs can be exhausting, especially if you are introverted like me. I usually try to sit down somewhere quiet for ~10 minutes in between every 2 or 3 companies.
- Prepare your elevator pitch. I’m in a bad habit of assuming I can wing it when talking about my work, but taking 30 minutes to review your resume and remind yourself of your most impactful projects and how you want to communicate those when you talk to a recruiter makes a difference. One of my favorite ways to do this is with a phrase such as “I know your company does X and I have done some projects related to Y&Z with these specific outcomes. This work taught me ______ which (increased my interest in/ makes me a good fit for/ gave me the skills and knowledge valuable for) a job in this field”
Use these tips to prepare for a career fair but don’t stress about making the best first impression or scheduling an interview with every company. Use it as a chance to feel out which employers would be the best fit for you and have fun!
Leave your favorite career fair tips below and be sure to checkout InternX at https://www.theinternx.com/ !