Hacking the Career Fair

During my time both as a student and a recruiter/engineer, I’ve spent quite a lot of time at career fairs, on both sides of the table. With career fair season upon us, I thought I’d share a few of my tips for making the most out of a career fair to give you your best shot at securing an interview with your dream company.

I’ll start with a little disclaimer that most of these tips may not apply as much to the bigger companies (Google, Facebook, etc.). In my experience, those companies get so much response at career fairs that the only thing that really matters is your resume. Several times as a student, I waited in line for an hour just to be told to apply online, which I of course had already done. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

Do Your Research

The first thing to do when prepping for a career fair is to scope out the companies in attendance. Depending on the size of your school, there might be hundreds or just a handful. Make a shortlist of your “priorities”, (I usually tried to keep this down to about 5 or so, but there’s really not a limit) and learn as much as possible about each company. At the very least, this includes:

  • What positions you’re applying for
  • Some of the current projects/products that the company works on
  • Question(s) you’re going to ask about the company (at least 1)
  • How you will pitch yourself to that company in particular

You need to know the first two things to know the second two things. The important point here is that your pitch is company-specific. A generic pitch that has nothing to do with the company will likely be met with a zoned-out stare from the recruiter, who’s heard the same thing from every other person that day. Armed with your research, let’s talk about how exactly you come up with that perfect pitch.

Sell Yourself (AKA The Pitch)

The first thing to keep in mind is that a career fair, like a resume, is a sales pitch. You’re the product (and the salesperson). You need to convince the customer (the company/recruiter) that you will produce value to them, that you, above all the other candidates, are the right person for the job. In my experience there are two essential parts to this. First, you need to show that you’re a good fit for the company. Find a way to relate what the company works on to your interests or things you’ve worked on. Maybe you’re really passionate about crypto-currency, maybe you’ve worked in a lab that has a technology overlap with the particular company, whatever it is, be sure to emphasize that you want to work for this company above all others. Secondly, you need to show that you’re a good fit for the particular position(s) that you’re applying for. The job posting likely had a list of requirements and “good-to-haves.” You should highlight how you meet these requirements and what makes you a good fit for this job in particular.

Keep in mind that all of these things in your sales pitch should also be on your resume, which you should have handed to the recruiter after shaking their hand (Side note: please lead with a handshake and not a resume, it’s much more professional). In all likelihood once you’ve handed them your resume, the recruiter will start scanning it. Do not wait for them to lead the conversation. Instead, give your pitch while they scan, pointing out the relevant parts of your resume as you get to them in your pitch. With any luck, this will make the recruiter stop focusing on your resume and start focusing on you which is the objective. You need to leave an impression with the recruiter, and that’s easier to do with a conversation than with a resume. Candidates that lead the conversation almost always leave me with a better impression than those that wait for me to start one.

Follow Up

After you’ve asked your questions to the recruiter (you did have questions, right?) be sure to ask for a business card or email address. Use this to email the recruiter a few days later thanking them for their time and conversation. Attach a copy of your resume, and try to bring up something you two talked about so that they can put a face to the email. This little extra effort can make a big difference, depending on how much sway the recruiter has during the recruiting process. I know for me, this was enough for me to move a resume from the “no” stack to the “interview” stack, just because it indicated that the candidate was genuinely interested in working with me, which is worth a lot.

Closing Thoughts

Career fairs can be stressful, but by following these tips you’ll be sure to stand out from the crowd, which is sometimes all you really need to do. It’s also important to be sure that your resume is in tip-top-shape, which I can also help with! Head on over to Debug My Resume for in-depth feedback and advice, personalized for your specific resume. Or, subscribe to our mailing list with the form below to get premier access to the latest resume tips.