Preparing oneself for the insanity that is career fair is like planning a commercial for the Super Bowl. It may not cost millions of dollars to attend career day and talk to companies, but the stakes are just as high. As a student interviewer approaches a booth, he only has 20-30 seconds to impress the recruiter with his “pitch.” If he fails to do this, the recruiter will move on to the next person. With this in mind, Jean Manning-Clark of the CSM career center presented her ideas to help students be successful at career fair.
She presented what she calls “The 5 P’s to Success” – plan, prepare, practice, personal appearance, and performance.
The planning step of preparation is fairly brief. Take a look in the front section of the career day guide, where all of the jobs are listed by major and class. Look to see what companies are looking to hire people like you. Freshmen majoring in Petroleum Engineering will probably not do much good talking to Halliburton, who is only looking to hire graduating seniors. Taking this step at the beginning of the career day preparation process will prevent time being wasted later on down the road.
The next question that requires consideration is how long to spend at career fair. For students who have only one hour to spend at career day, it is important to limit the number of companies they approach to less than ten. But if time allows, it can never hurt to talk to 15-20 companies. But no matter how many companies a student does, it is important to research into what each one does. As Manning-Clark said in her lecture, “Companies’ biggest annoyance is students not knowing about the company.” The worst question anyone can ask at career fair is, “So, what does your company do again?” Take the time to prepare a few short notes about the company, how you fit with what they are looking for, and why they should hire you. This little bit of preparation goes a long way towards looking professional in front of recruiters.
Once students finish all their background research, they should go find a friend and practice their pitch. Students can use this to become more comfortable with what they are going to say.
Once the big day arrives, it is a good idea to strategically plan the order in which one is going to visit companies. If National Instruments is the top company on the list, do not visit them first. Instead, start with the companies near the bottom of the list, and get some practice in by talking to them. Then, once the pitch feels natural and comfortable, go talk to the top companies. It is critical for a student to be able to sell their performance, and make the company know why it should hire them.
Once all the preparation is done, there is still one last important question – what should I wear? As Manning-Clark explained it, “How you dress is how you impress.” Women are advised to wear a blouse or a nice scooped neck shirt with dress slacks or skirt that rests no more than three inches above the knee. Women should not wear open-toed shoes or overly high heels, and should avoid wearing excessive amounts of jewelry. A business suit would also be considered appropriate attire. As far as men are concerned, it is advised that they wear a long-sleeved, button-down shirt with khaki slacks at the very least, but a suit or slacks with a sport coat would be preferred.
One appearance rule that holds true for both men and women is that you should not wear an excessive amount of cologne or perfume. If you are worried that it will wear off after being there for an hour or two, it is good to note that the career center stocks Febreeze at the registration table for the purpose of helping students, so be sure to take advantage of that if necessary.
Manning-Clark ended her presentation with a friendly reminder to students. “Every single person is going to make a mistake [on career day]. Own it. Laugh it off! It happens to everyone.” Companies understand this fact, and making one mistake is not going to ruin a chance at getting an internship or a job.