My mother has always said, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” She’s a very smart lady and has been right about this time after time! Her wisdom has inspired me to plan as much as possible (and reflect on those words when I don’t) to set myself up for success in my career.
Here are a few tips to help maximize your experience at Enactus Career Fairs.
Know Before You Go: Research the companies that are recruiting at the career fair, their common entry-level positions, brands, and exactly what they do.
PRO TIP: Never approach a recruiter at the booth and ask, “What does your company do?” It’s easy to do the necessary research online beforehand, yet many job seekers still don’t. Step out of your comfort zone and explore some companies that you wouldn’t typically consider working for. You may surprise yourself!
Bring Your Résumé: It’s true that some companies require candidates to apply online so that their applicant tracking system (ATS) has all your information in compliance with government regulations; however, even if you’ve applied online, it’s still a good idea to bring your résumé. Use it as a follow-up tool. As you hand it to the recruiter, suggest where you think you fit within the company based on your research. Don’t forget to tell them that you’ve already applied online.
The Handshake: Do you have a friend or family member that has a crushing handshake? How about that friend who just dangles his hand out there for you to shake? A firm, confident handshake is very important. Look the recruiter in the eye, smile and introduce yourself. For instance, say, “Hi, I’m (name), a senior (subject) major from (your school) in (your town).” Shake hands with a grip that’s neither too hard nor too limp. Two seconds is more than enough time to hold on.
Follow Up: Follow up is perhaps the most important part of the entire process. After you’ve done the research, dressed for success, introduced yourself and learned about your fit within the company, remember to request a business card and ask, “When should I follow up with you?” Send a short, handwritten thank-you note for their time, reminding them how you met and the opportunity in which you’re interested. You also could mention that you’ve applied online and list the job requisition number or position name.
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s discuss some of the details. Whether you’re a college freshman or senior, new Enactus member or veteran, there is great value in attending the career fair with a targeted plan of action.
It’s a common misconception that freshmen have no business attending career fairs. This could not be more untrue. Here are some things you should be doing during your first year in college that will position you for success:
• Research – Research different industries and the opportunities each provides for a college graduate. This is a great way to better understand industries like retail, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and insurance, for example.
• Interview – Interview your peers and faculty advisors. Ask them how they got where they are today and if they would share pointers with you. Don’t be afraid to ask! Most people are willing to help others succeed.
• Job Shadow – You’re still a little too green (academically) to be considered for most internship opportunities, but don’t let that stop you. Lots of companies will allow you to “job shadow” with someone, whether it’s for a day, a week, or sometimes longer. Take advantage of this unique tool and get your appointment secured!
• Prepare a Résumé – Just because you’re a freshman doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a résumé (or at least have one started). Even if your jobs up to this point include only babysitting, waiting tables, or mowing lawns, they all demonstrate responsibility and add to experience. Through your Enactus involvement, you definitely have worked on a team, acquired communication skills, and may even have served as a project leader. Highlight this experience on your résumé and be sure to keep it updated as you continue to grow as a professional.
• Research – Research doesn’t end with your freshman year. This is the time to take a closer look at career opportunities for college students and graduates at companies in industries that interest you the most. Understanding each company’s culture and history will allow you to make a well-informed decision.
• Industry Narrowing – Narrow the list of industries to your top two or three. Once narrowed, dig deeper. What is the typical day like in the life of an employee?
• Career Fairs – Attend the career fair. Establishing a rapport with recruiters is helpful in understanding your fit within their companies. Plus, it helps them remember you!
PRO TIP: Don’t grab the free stuff and ask, “Do you have any jobs?” The stuff is there for the taking, but treat it as a gift following a meaningful conversation. Educate yourself enough to discuss the basic opportunities. You don’t have to memorize its history, mission and vision, but it’s helpful if you know something about the company. The goal is to get the job, not the free stress ball.
• Internships – This is your first opportunity to land one. The experience and knowledge gained through an internship are very valuable. Gone are the days where the intern is the official coffee maker, errand boy or personal assistant. Today’s internships provide a high-level look into a company, allowing students to experience various aspects of the business. Most are given special projects which will be presented to executive leadership at the internship’s end. Bring your A-game. If they’re impressed with your performance, you could land your first job there!
PRO TIP: The timeline to apply to internships is typically in the Fall semester, with most companies wrapping up interviews for their summer internships by the Thanksgiving holiday. Don’t wait too long to apply!
Focus on these priorities to build on what you have done the previous two years:
• Industry Focus – By now, you should have confirmed your interest in one or two industries. All the research you’ve done over the past couple of years will begin to pay off. You’re starting to figure out what you want to “be when you grow up.” Reach out to people in the industries to learn more. Ask if they enjoy their careers and how they got there. Feel free to contact recruiters in the fall when they are in hiring mode, filling positions for the next summer and fall management classes. Don’t miss your chance.
• Career Fairs – As a junior, you should have two goals: 1. to land your second internship (whether it’s the second year at the same company or a new position with a different company) and 2. to get serious about full-time employment after graduation.
You’ve done the research, completed the interviews, and even job shadowed here and there, learning exactly in which industry you wish to start your career.
• Industry Focus – You should now be laser-focused on one specific area of the industry. Make a list of the top 10 or 15 companies that you want to work for, then follow the steps below.
• Internships – By now, you should have completed (or will upon graduation) one or two internships. Many degree programs require that at least one be completed. Remember, in addition to this being great experience that allows you the opportunity to gain an inside look into a company, it’s also the feeder program for the company’s full-time entry-level positions. Some companies retain up to 60% of their interns (higher in some cases) for full-time positions upon graduation!
• Career Fairs – Don’t forget about the career fair, even as a senior. This is a great way to follow up on recent applications and résumés that you previously submitted. If you are still undecided, it’s a chance to learn even more about the company and where you would fit. Ask questions – that’s what recruiters are there for.
• Interviews – This is the last step, and one where you have the chance to really shine. Be yourself and let your experience set you apart from the rest of the crowd.
These are just a few tips to help you maximize your career fair experience. Go with a plan, learn all you can, and land that job! I’d wish you the best of luck, but you won’t need it. You’ve prepared for this day. As you make your career decisions, I highly encourage you to consider working for a Enactus partner company. These companies have invested in your success, recognizing your talent and the true value of your experience. You are empowering people in need to live better lives through the positive power of business. With more than 150 of the world’s top companies supporting Enactus, there are many opportunities available to launch your career!
Now go out there and land your dream job!