How to Stand Out at a Career Fair
Pro tips from two university recruiters.
When it comes to navigating career fairs and other on-campus recruiting events, students often receive the same set of advice – bring your resume, dress professionally, and be friendly. But how do you stand out among the crowd of your business-casual, resume-toting peers?
To actually stand out to recruiters during a career fair, you need to do more than just show up. We spoke with Jillian Knowles, Campus Recruitment Lead at AlphaSights, and Ashley Plamp, Head of University Talent Acquisition at DRW, about the top ways students can impress recruiters – and it doesn’t require bringing a business card.
Research the company beforehand
You don’t have to be an expert on everything the company does, but come prepared with knowledge of the company to optimize the time you spend with a company representative.
“In my experience, researching companies beforehand really equips students to make the most of their time at career fairs,” Plamp said. “I’d recommend picking out five companies that seem like a strong fit for you and researching those companies in depth. This will ensure you have meaningful conversations when you meet their reps at the booth.”
If you don’t have a chance to research a company before the career fair, you should at least scan their website and get a feel for what they do before approaching their table.
“If you have a cell phone, it’s so easy to search online for basic information on a company,” said Knowles. “Don’t go up to a company and say you’ve never heard of them.”
It’s important to have background knowledge on a company so your conversation isn’t bogged down by basic information you can find anywhere. Plus, having context on the company gives you the chance to personalize your questions and get the most out of your meeting.
Lead the conversation
“The people that stand out to me are the ones who know what they want to accomplish in the conversation,” said Knowles. “Be able to articulate what roles you’re looking for instead of expecting the recruiter to fill you in on the roles they have available. Offer up the skills you have and ask where in the firm that could fit.”
While a recruiter will be able to tell you about the positions their company is hiring for, introducing your skills and interest early on allows them to highlight the most relevant positions to you. Now instead of asking general questions about the company, you have the chance to find out more information about the role and what they’re looking for in a candidate.
“I find it impressive when students know which role they’re interested in, and ask specific questions about the role to see if they are a fit,” said Plamp. “It’s great to hear about a student’s past coursework or projects and how it would prepare them well for a role at DRW.”
Ask smart questions and actively listen
In addition to learning more about the specific openings at a company, this is your chance to learn about what it’s like to work there. Make sure you have a few questions in your arsenal that can help you learn more about the professional experiences of the person you’re talking with.
“There is so much information about companies online, so digging into the personal stories of the people you meet at the career fairs can be really valuable,” Plamp said. “Ask why that person loves working at their company, and how their careers have progressed to give you a personal view into the company. I would also recommend digging into their day to day – consider asking about a recent interesting project they worked on. This will give you a clear example of what the actual work is and if that is something you’re interested in.”
While it’s great to have a list of questions ready, “Don’t be so over prepared that you’re not actively listening,” said Knowles. “My favorite candidates are the ones that ask follow-up questions on what I just said to them, rather than wait for the next piece of information.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for more information on something a recruiter said, whether it’s about their day-to-day tasks or what they look for in candidates. Generating a dialogue will not only help you acquire additional information, but also shows you can think critically and ask intelligent questions.
If you’re especially interested in a company, make it to their other on-campus events
At the career fair, it’s worth asking if a company you’re interested in has any other events while they’re on campus.
“Recruiters definitely take notice of the students that are investing their time in the process,” said Knowles. She recommends attending other events, like info sessions, offered by a company and making sure you reacquaint yourself with a recruiter if you attend any additional events. “It can help to have multiple touchpoints before the interview selection process,” she said.
If you have the chance to fill out an online form or provide your email address during a career fair or info session, don’t skip out even if you’re in a rush. Checking in is often how you get credit for attending an event, says Knowles, and it can help your name stand out during the application process.
Send a follow-up message after the event
Recruiters meet hundreds of students at career fairs and on-campus events, so it’s important to send a personalized follow-up message after meeting.
If you’re meeting with several employers at the career fair, Plamp recommends jotting down a few notes right after a conversation so you can mention something specific you touched on when writing a personalized follow-up message later. When you send your message, be sure to re-introduce yourself and mention the event you attended to refresh the memory of the person you spoke with.
Plamp also prefers connecting on LinkedIn over email: “It’s always helpful to add a face to the name.”
If you do opt for email, be sure to keep it short and sweet. Knowles suggests referencing your conversation and reaffirming your interest in the position and company. And unless it’s a specific question about the application process, try not to bring additional questions into the mix. If you still have questions about company culture or responsibilities of a specific role, Knowles recommends reaching out to other employees for insight.
“I’m always impressed by candidates who tell me that they went on LinkedIn and found some of our associates at AlphaSights and they’re planning on reaching out to them to find out more about the company,” Knowles said. “I think that’s a level of proactiveness that shows how interested someone is in the role. I’ve had associates tell me they’ve had great conversations with candidates, and it’s an extra gold star in my book.”
Next time you’re super interested in a role, try reaching out to a few current employees on LinkedIn with a personalized note and see if they would be willing to chat, especially if they’re alumni of your university. You might not get a response, but going the extra mile even after the career fair can help you stand out during the rest of the hiring process.
With hundreds of students passing through a career fair, it’s easy to feel like just another face in the crowd. To stand out during a busy event, come prepared, actively listen, and ask intelligent questions. Afterwards, be sure to attend any other on-campus events and follow-up with the recruiter via email or on LinkedIn. This is an opportunity to learn more about a company and its roles, and to position yourself competitively for the application process. Do your best to make it count!