While I’m not giving you a free clicky pen or a drawstring bag, I am about to provide you with the best piece of recruiting SWAG you will get all summer — knowledge. Below, I have broken down the essentials to nailing your next appearance at your local career fair.
S – Study
Let’s think about what happens 99 percent of the time at a career fair. You show up to the booth and then wait in line to shake the hand of the recruiter at the booth. You leave your résumé, walk away, and think to yourself, “I really hope they remember me.” I hate to be the bearer of unfortunate news, but you just did exactly what the other 100-plus candidates did, and it’s not likely that the recruiter will remember you from any of them.
The best way to make a great first impression and separate yourself from the crowd is to do your research (AKA Study up) on the company and their current openings. It shows you cared enough to do actual work by researching and then applying what you learned. It also potentially gives you access to an actual, personal conversation instead of being one of 100 handshakes. Which would you rather get?
Let’s do some quick scene study:
“What do you guys do and do you have any openings for my skills?
Oh, by the way, here is my résumé.”
(In a robotic monotone voice)
“Thanks for the résumé. We’ll keep it on file. We’re a software company who creates software for construction companies. Thanks for stopping by. Make sure you apply online. Bye!”
Not the most dynamic scene, right? You didn’t make a real impression, and the recruiter in this scene probably said the exact same thing to you that he’s said 100 times to 100 different people that day.
Now let’s look at this scene:
“I saw that you guys are a great company and conveniently located right down the street from my favorite restaurant. Also, I’m really interested in the marketing position you have open. Here is my résumé with my latest project at the top. Do you think my skills and experience would fit with that particular role?”
“As a matter of fact, I do think your résumé matches up with what we’re looking for. Would you mind stepping to the side and telling me more about what you’ve been working on?”
Which scene would you prefer – the first, or the second? Obviously you want the second one — duh. I’d choose that every day of the week. There is a dramatic difference with only just a small amount of effort applied!
As recruiters, we are all guilty of robotically reciting the same bit over and over again. So when you walk up prepared and we finally get to have a conversation, our brains become engaged and we are much more likely to recall that conversation and, in turn, you. A little bit of work will go a long way.
W – Wake up early
Want to know how a career fair works from an insider’s perspective? The recruiters show up early in the morning to set up, go get some bagels or muffins from the continental breakfast, snag a cup of coffee to go, and walk back to our booth and wait. We then proceed to check LinkedIn on our phones and make some tweets announcing that we are at the career fair. Then it happens — the whole reason why we came! A candidate walks up! We stand up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with literally as much enthusiasm we are going to have all day. If you show up early, you are getting every recruiter in that room at their peak, before the long day takes its toll.
SIDE NOTE: As a candidate, pay attention the next time you go to a career fair. There will eventually be a point where those behind the booths will start sitting down. At that point, your chances of being remembered go down as well. That is a sign that Mr. or Ms. Recruiter is now starting the process of checking out. They have been on their feet all day, and they are counting the minutes until the fair is over.
Last thing on this point: do not be that person that sees a company packing up and approaches them. You might as well put your résumé in the trash – at this point the recruiters are not in a place to accept résumés anymore. And you are now running the risk of being seen as late and preventing them from leaving. Do yourself a favor – show up early!
A – Appearance
Don’t judge a book by its cover. It sounds nice in theory, but let’s be honest – we all judge books, movies, and products by their covers. Walking through a career fair is no exception.
Before I go any further, I am not saying that if you do not have a suit and tie, you are straight out of luck. What I am saying, however, is that whatever you do wear, make sure it reflects how great you are and is not distracting. You want us talking to you and remembering your résumé and your attitude, not your wrinkled tie or coffee-stained shirt.
Think of this as a pseudo-blind audition. Dress for the part you are looking to play. You would not dress in athletic shorts and a student organization t-shirt if you were auditioning for the part of “trendy business analyst” or “suave sales professional.” You would wear something to impress the casting agent, and something that is appropriate for the character you are looking to play.
Recruiters and casting agents alike are less likely to fault you for overdressing than they are to fault you for underdressing.
G – Good Follow-up
Like I mentioned above, recruiters are likely to interact with more than 100 candidates at a large career fair. That means you can do everything right and still slip through the cracks. When we get back to the office, we are coming back to a day’s worth of catch-up work. Unfortunately, one of the last things on our mind is unpacking our career fair bag. Where do you think your résumé is? It is in that bag! And while this bag situation is not always the case, it is good for you to follow up on your career fair conversation every time.
Whether you formally apply online or send an informal email, staying in front of the recruiter is critical. Before you walk away from the career fair booth, you want to try and make sure you get either a business card or our contact information. Not all follow-up is good, and everything is better in moderation, so make sure you give it a few days before you panic. And once you do email, I would encourage you to leave it at that. You do not want to blur the line between diligent and annoying.
So there you have it: the best career fair SWAG you will receive this summer! If you can remember these four keys to success, I guarantee you will start receiving more calls and having better/more productive career fair conversations.