School is back in session and you’ve been busy getting settled into new classes and reuniting with old friends. With so much going on at the start of a new semester, you probably aren’t focused on searching for full-time, post-graduation employment. Maybe you heard an announcement about your university’s upcoming career fair, but you weren’t planning on going. Why bother searching for a job months before graduation? You’ve got plenty of time to job hunt later. Plus, the career fair falls on your busiest day of the week. It just doesn’t seem worth all the effort.
What you might not realize, however, is that fall career fairs offer lots of great benefits and it would be a mistake to skip your local fair. Sure, you’ve spent years studying in classrooms and learning information in your chosen field to prepare for your future. But how do you decide which career path is right for you? Whether you’re a college senior getting ready for life after graduation or a young professional still searching for the right job, deciding upon a career path can be difficult. For some, it takes years to find a career that is a good match for their skills and interests.
That’s why college career fairs are such a great opportunity. A good career fair will provide students and young alumni with exposure to a variety of jobs, a chance to network with potential employers, and practice interviewing and presenting themselves professionally. Let’s explore some of the benefits of career fairs, why it’s a mistake to skip your local fair, and what you can do to get the most out of your next college job fair.
One of the biggest benefits of attending a career fair is the opportunity to learn about all the career paths available within your field. Sure, you might already know about some of jobs you can pursue with your degree, but career fairs give you the opportunity to talk to potential employers and industry leaders one-on-one. Oftentimes, they can share insights about what a role requires beyond a degree and tell you who is a good fit for the job. Remember, you might have the right skills for a role, but that doesn’t mean it will be a match for your work style or professional goals.
Additionally, talking to industry experts early on in your job search can help you find ways to set yourself apart from the crowd when it comes time to apply. For example, let’s say you find out that a company you’d like to work for really values previous experience like internships. As a result, you decide to find an internship that will help you gain real world experience to be a stronger candidate. Or maybe you learn that some classes in computer programming would be helpful to ensure you’re prepared for the career you’re interested in. These are the kinds of valuable insights and information you can only gather from in-person conversations and interactions with professionals in the field.
Last, career fairs offer the opportunity to compare career paths and learn about alternative job positions that might be available. Maybe you always envisioned becoming a web developer but given the chance to compare web and mobile development opportunities you discover there are way more available jobs in mobile technology. Likewise, perhaps a few additional classes with a focus on AI will give you valuable knowledge and help you earn a higher starting salary. A career fair allows you to look at all your job options more objectively and make career decisions that are right for you.
Networking is an important skill and useful job search tool at any stage in your career, but it can be especially helpful when you’re first getting started. Experts have estimated that anywhere from 70 to 85 percent of people find a job through networking. While LinkedIn can be a great place to start building your network, there’s nothing quite like a career fair for meeting industry experts and potential employers. Unlike other networking or professional events, one of the benefits of career fairs is that representatives from different companies will all be in one place, giving you the opportunity to make a broad range of connections with potential employers.
While it may be hard to approach a job recruiter or company representative for the first time, the more you practice the easier it will be. If you’re especially nervous about approaching an industry expert, consider writing some questions down ahead of time or rehearse a short introduction explaining who you are and why you’re interested in a job with their organization. Career fairs are a great space to hone your networking skills in a low risk environment, and even if you don’t land an interview, making a good impression can help you develop connections that might prove invaluable down the road.
Before attending a career fair, there are a few things you should get in order. First, review your resume. Is it up-to-date and formatted professionally? Does it include your most recent work experience, relevant classwork and skills? If you aren’t sure what to include or how best to structure your resume, consider meeting with a career counselor or academic advisor to have your resume reviewed. A clean, concise resume will help you set yourself apart from the crowd.
Next, consider what you’ll wear to the career fair. This may seem like a minor detail, but first impressions are important, so make sure you dress for success and present yourself professionally. As mentioned before, you’ll also want to make sure you’re comfortable introducing yourself, talking about your skills, and handing out your resume. You can practice ahead of time with a friend or use the fair itself to try a few warm-up introductions before interacting with your top choice employers.
Finally, some career fairs will include lectures or seminars on topics like the job search process and how to prepare for an interview. These sessions can be very beneficial, and a great thing to take advantage of if they’re offered. Ideally, you’ll leave your college career fair with new professional connections, job search tips and best practices to implement, and maybe even an interview or two.