How to ace a next career fair: A best practice guide for CoB students

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How to ace a career fair: A best practice guide for CoB students

April 25, 2016, Katja Sonkeng

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With the spring semester winding down and summer right around the corner, it’s that time of year again when SIU College of Business students begin searching for full-time positions, summer jobs and internship opportunities – and when career fairs are in full swing, too.

In preparation for the university-wide Saluki Student Job Fair that took place on April 19 at the SIU Student Center Ballrooms, Business Placement Center director Danna Lewis provided a guide of the most important “do’s and don’ts” for College of Business students to get the most out of attending career fairs. These often-overlooked gold mines of networking and employment opportunities are regularly offered by University Career Services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

“Careers fairs are still the best and easiest way to meet with prospective employers or recruiters in person, to learn more about companies and to explore potential career opportunities, such as internships, full-time positions and other benefits,” Lewis said.

Despite these benefits, there exists a widespread belief among students that career fairs are obsolete and a waste of time. Experts such as Lewis, director of the only college-focused career and placement center on the SIU campus, couldn’t disagree more.

“Do not dismiss the value of career fairs,” Lewis said. “It’s a crucial tool of job-hunting and your chance as a job seeker to stand out from the crowd and make yourself available for the opportunity that knocks on your door.”

But, as with everything in life, Lewis further adds that “preparation is the key to successfully navigate a job and career fair.”

Regardless of an individual’s intentions to attend a career fair solely to gather information about potential employers or to land a summer internship, career fairs offer ample opportunities for job seekers to make personal connections and put a face to the résumé – something that has become a rarity in our technology-driven world, in which the application process is now completely online.

Lewis said that by following a few simple, but important rules before, during and after a career fair, anyone can benefit from a career expo – and maybe even land a dream job. As an SIU alumna herself, Lewis urged College of Business students to have a game plan ready before even choosing what clothes to wear.

“The first step to a successful career fair is a thorough research on attending companies, and to understand how the recruiters evaluate candidates,” Lewis said. “Do your homework, sign up early and devise a plan for the day, know which employers interest you and prioritize them, but also leave sufficient time between interviews to remain highly flexible and available.”

A list of attendees usually is accessible on the event’s website a few days or weeks before the event.

With this prep work done, the next step is to review your goals and intentions of the career fair, Lewis said.

“Come up with a list of questions that goes beyond the information from the website of each employer you intend to visit and connect with,” she said.

At the same time, Lewis warned the students to be prepared to answer common interview questions from recruiters on career fairs. A typical question could be: “Why do you want to work for our company?”

Those questions often are the main reason students shy away from personal interviews with recruiters, ultimately destroying their chances to meet face to face with potential employers.

“Do not just drop your résumé on the recruiter’s table and walk off,” she said.

Instead, Lewis encourages all students to prepare a one-minute “commercial” or “elevator pitch” that focuses on the individual’s skills, abilities, strengths and work experience to show the potential employer the unique benefits each student can bring to the table.

“Remember, this is a unique networking opportunity,” Lewis said. “So make sure to jot down notes during the conversations for follow-up purposes, collect as many business cards as possible, make a good impression and bring your ‘A’ game. It’s the extra effort – the so-called ‘wow factor’ – that will set you apart from the rest of the pool of candidates.”

Equally important, she said, is to bring a sufficient stack of résumés along with a positive attitude, great enthusiasm and a professional look.

“Just stop by the Business Placement Center on the first floor of Rehn Hall, across from the dean’s office, and take advantage of our free résumé printing service,” she said.

One of the most-cited complaints from employers at career fairs is the lack of students wearing professional attire.

“The rule of thumb is to dress like you would for an interview,” Lewis said.

More specifically, Lewis said to always play safe and dress professionally conservative.

Lewis is fully aware of the everyday financial struggles most students face throughout their time in college, so her team at the College of Business Placement Center recently launched a new service that gives students the opportunity to rent professional business suits for interviews or career fairs.

Once a student has made his or her way through the countless booths, has met various recruiters and employers, has distributed résumés and has collected business cards and other giveaways, the crucial process of following up with new contacts begins.

“Ideally, you should send out thank-you notes, preferably handwritten, within a day or two after the career fair,” Lewis said. “But make sure to include specific details from your conversation with the representative to help him or her to remember you, and to initiate a continuous communication.”

Lewis also urged students to make an effort immediately following the expo to apply online for the positions for which they interviewed at the career fair, and to include snippets of the conversations or the correct name of the recruiter to whom they spoke.

“Don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn with the recruiters,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the best practice is to apply before the career expo, since doing so serves as a great confidence builder and conversation starter.

Equipped with these tools and advice, College of Business graduates and current students will be well-prepared to ace their next career fair on or off campus – and to land a dream summer internship or full-time position.

The next upcoming Saluki Student Job Fair is scheduled for 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 at the Student Center Ballrooms. For more information, stop by the SIU College of Business Placement Center in Rehn Hall, room 113, or email Danna Lewis at Danna.Lewis@business.siu.edu.