By: Linnita Hosten

If you are like me, the thought of going to a large event and networking is completely overwhelming and uneasy.

This was my positioning until I landed a paid internship opportunity junior year- just by showing up at a career fair prepared. Since then, I’ve been an advocate of just stopping in to TEST DRIVE the labor market.

By attending career events before you are ready to explore career options, you are able to practice selling your skills, talent and value BEFORE your sells pitch counts.

Get exposed to real-world possibilities. What jobs are in demand? What specific skill sets are employers looking for? What is the current pay scale for a specific job? What are an ideal candidate’s qualifications?

Attending career fairs are also an opportunity to see how the business community interacts with potential employees. What are the qualifications for organizations similar to the organization of your interest?

This is probably the best opportunity to ask organizational representatives about the culture of their work environment and if you can visit to meet other employees and observe. You can also ask how they search for employees and what job search engines they most frequently use.

Inquiring about visitation/shadowing communicates your interest in the organization and personalizes your encounter with the representative.

Questions to Ask While at the Career Fair
• Are there any additional job openings that may be available soon?
• Are there any position openings that are not currently advertised?
• Could you describe the interview process for prospective candidates?
• Could you take a look at my resume and provide feedback for improvement?
• Are there any upcoming industry changes that I should prepare for in standards, requirements and certifications?

Other Tips
• Visit the companies of least interest first. This strategy allows you to perfect your introduction before visiting your top picks.
• Be sure to remain professional for the duration of the event, including while you are walking around or waiting in line. You never know who may be watching.
• Be prepared to ask specific questions and remain aware of the amount of time spent with each representative.
• Be sure to request the representative’s contact information to send a follow-up/ thank you email. (See example at end of blog.)
• Be open to visiting companies outside of your industry. There may be companies that you had not considered that are hiring applicants with your skill set.
• Conduct research on the companies you plan to target. Be familiar with the organization’s mission, values, and services. Representatives are always impressed by candidates who have some familiarity with their organization.
• Consider purchasing a professional padfolio to store your resumes and cover letters while attending career fairs and/or interviews.
• Before attending a career fair, update or create a LinkedIn profile that resembles your most current resume. This is also the perfect time to clean up your Facebook profile and adjust other social media profile settings to private.

What to Bring
• A notepad and pen
• Current resume
• Portfolio of past work experience (In the event you receive an on-the-spot interview)

If you meet a representative at a career fair and are interested in learning more about the organization or simply connecting, ask for their contact information and follow up with your request.

See sample follow up emails below:

Option #1
(If the representative is uncertain about a shadow day)

Hi Jane,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the Accounting Career Fair held on Towson University’s campus today. As I mentioned, I am very interested in learning more about the culture of your company.

I know you mentioned an uncertainty regarding my ability to shadow you. Perhaps there is an opportunity for me to volunteer for your next outreach event?

I would also be open to assisting the office with (Mention your area of strength that would be of value to the organization- i.e. database management, creating filing systems or spreadsheets, etc.).

I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,
Kerri Henry

Option #2
(If you were unable to ask about a shadow day)

Hi John,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the Career Fair held on Towson University’s campus today. I am very interested in learning more about your role at (insert organization).

Would you be open to me shadowing you during a work day this semester?

I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,
Kerri Henry

Option #3
(Simple thank you)

Hi John,

It was a pleasure meeting you at the Career Fair held on Towson University’s campus today.

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your advice. (Reference the advice you learned).

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sincerely,
Kerri Henry

Remember, it’s best to Test Drive before it’s time to buy. You can start your career exploration just by walking into a career fair.

Learn more about Linnita Hosten and her leadership program at campuspeak.com/linnita-hosten