Campus career fair game plan

Ditch the backpack and load up on information about companies that pique your interest. And remember, you’ll be one of hundreds and possibly thousands of students and/or alumni descending upon your campus career fair so be prepared to make an impression.

For starters, determine the reason you’re attending, advises University of Toronto employment coach Glen Matadeen. Are you looking for a full-time or part-time job, an internship, a volunteer position, to learn more about exhibitors or to practise your networking and communication skills?

Next, find out which companies and organizations are attending and the ones you’re most interested in targeting. Visit their websites to learn more about what they do and research current job postings.

Put together a fairly targeted resumé and prepare a 30-second script that identifies your program of study, when you will graduate, and past work and extra-curricular experience. Mature students in particular should have a LinkedIn profile, Matadeen says.

It’s never too early to begin attending campus career fairs, advises Howie Outerbridge, director of career services at the University of British Columbia. “It’s great to go to as many career fairs as you possibly can,” he says.

“In your first or second year, attend from the perspective of a window shopper — you’re browsing some of the aisles to see who’s coming on campus.”

Closer to graduation, you should be more strategic. Consider attending the large fair typically held at most universities early in the academic year, followed by faculty-specific fairs.

“Customization — exercising your brand — is very important,” Outerbridge says. “That means everything from the language and manners you demonstrate to having a marketing package ready with a networking card.”

Be flexible. “Some reps might direct you to a site to apply; others will engage you in conversation and look at your cover letter and resumé right there,” Outerbridge says.

When you end your conversation with recruiters, thank them for their time and ask them for a business card. “Success means leaving with four or five good contacts who will be expecting an updated application or looking for your application through their online system,” Outerbridge says.

Writing a thank-you note following the event is an effective way to reintroduce yourself to the employer. “Quite often, that connection can lead to something,” Outerbridge says. “Following up demonstrates one of the skills recruiters are looking for, which is being organized and having that attention to detail.”

Finally, take advantage of available resources. U of T, for example, offers resumé workshops and clinics, as well as career fair workshops and seminars. Brush up on your networking skills with the help of a career coach.

Unsure about your career path? Take advantage of library resources and online career assessment tools, such as Career Cruising.

Preparation tips

Make a positive impression at any networking event with the following preparation tips from U of T:

• Do your research: Research the organization(s) and career areas you’re interested in pursuing.

• Prepare marketing materials: Take a targeted and updated resumé. Networking business cards should include key career and contact information, including job objective or unique selling proposition.

• Prepare a 30-second script: Demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the organization, communicate the skills you offer, show leadership and involvement in a university or community environment, in addition to academic and work experiences, and describe future career goals.

• Prepare career-oriented and company-specific questions: You’ll make a good impression while getting information that can provide relevant content for your resumé and interview. A sample question: What kind of work experience or extra-curricular activities would help me prepare for this field?

Etiquette tips

Be sure to follow the rules of business etiquette when attending a career fair. Some advice from the University of Toronto:

• Be punctual.
• Dress in business attire, unless casual dress is specified.
• Approach a recruiter on your own — not with a group of friends.
• Greet the representative with a firm handshake. Don’t just drop off your resumé or business card and walk away – introduce yourself and express your interest in the company.
• Don’t monopolize a recruiter’s time.
• When ending a conversation, ask about the follow-up procedure and time frame. Thank the recruiter and ask for a business card.