First Time at a Career Fair: A Guide for First-Generation Students

By: Tony

A couple weeks ago, I attended the UMN Job and Internship Fair for the first time. To be completely honest, I was overwhelmed and terrified. I had been to other career fairs in the past, but the sheer size of this particular fair caught me off-guard. Unfortunately, the preparation I did beforehand was not enough to make me completely ready. Being a first-generation college student (neither of my parents have received a degree from a four-year university), I do not have many of the resources my peers do, and I have not always been aware of the resources available to me. If you’re also a first-generation student, you may be in the same boat as I was, and even if you aren’t a first-generation student, career fairs are likely still intimidating. After self-reflection and re-acquainting myself with the resources offered by Career and Internship Services, I have come up with a quick guide that will prepare you for what to expect at a career fair and inform you how to put yourself in the best position possible.

Do Your Homework
Most career fairs will at least give a list of the employers that will be tabling at the career fair on their website. If you’re lucky, the organizers will also be able to provide a brief overview of what each employer is looking for in terms of majors, career field, and type of position, whether it be an internship, part-time, or full-time. Regardless, you should look through the list of employers and select a few that look interesting to you. Once you have your list, familiarize yourself with each employer. What do they produce or what services do they provide? How big are they? What recent developments have they made? Their website will be your best friend, as you can gather a lot of information on them just by browsing what they have on their site. The purpose of this is to both get an idea of what working for them may be like, as well as building up knowledge that you can impress them with later. I would also recommend formulating a question or two about each company or organization to ask the employers.

Spruce Up Your Resume
Your resume is key. Not all employers may be able to take your resume due to their human resources policies, but they are multifunctional. I’ve used my resume and seen others use theirs to inform employers about themselves and their accomplishments. I have also seen employers use resumes to explain how the attendee would fit into their company or organization, given their knowledge, experience, and interests. One time, an employer even took my resume and said that he would look at it later and send me applications for job openings in his organization that I may be interested in.

Each version of your resume should be specifically tailored to the reason why you are making it, and job fairs are no different. In the typical job fair resume, the focus will be broader than it would be for a job or internship application resume. In this case, your objective will only be as specific as the industries or fields that you wish to work within. The rest of your resume will then demonstrate why you’re qualified to work in that industry or field.

Success at the career fair, a first-generation student's guide

Work On Your Elevator Speech
An elevator speech is a quick 30-second to one-minute pitch of you. You want the employer to get a good idea of who you are as a person and potential employee. You should talk about your:

  • Name
  • Grade level
  • Major/minor
  • Strengths
  • Relevant interests

I recommend practicing your elevator speech in front of a mirror or a partner. It will likely be part of the employer’s first impression of you, and you want to make sure it’s as smooth and natural as possible

Dress Appropriately
Today’s the day. Today might be your first time interacting with your future employer after you earn your degree, no pressure. But the question on your mind is, what should I wear? Although the specific dress code and work culture will vary from employer to employer, the safe bet is to dress business professional. What does that mean exactly? Here’s a resource with some good basic information. 

Travel in a Wolf Pack
Job fairs can be intimidating when going alone, so try to go with a group to ease the tension. Of course, you should generally interact with employers one-on-one, but the shared experience of a group can reduce stress and anxiety. Personally, I like when my girlfriend comes with me for moral support. She’s always great at it, and I highly recommend having the moral support of your own if you can.

The Approach
Here it is. Everything has come down to this. Now it’s time to put together all the pieces of the puzzle and knock it out of the park. When engaging with the employer, make sure to make eye contact and give a firm handshake. Introduce yourself with your elevator speech and express interest in learning more. After the employer has given more information, pose the question(s) you have prepared. Throughout the conversation, make sure to make eye-contact, be aware of your body language, and give non-verbal cues like nodding and smiling to show that you’re paying attention and interested in what they are saying. If they are accepting resumes, give one to them, and take business cards if they have them available. Also, make sure to take note of the names of the representatives there as that is information you can mention later in a cover letter. As you depart, say nice it was to meet them and give another firm handshake. There you go, you’re done! That wasn’t too bad, right? Now go do it some more.

On-site Research
What if you see an employer that you are interested in, but are unprepared to talk with them? Fear not, you can still do some quick research on your phone so you don’t have to talk to them with little to say. Usually, there will be a student lounge where you can do this research (and relax) away from the employers.

Networking, Networking, Networking
A major component of career fairs outside of talking to employers is to talk with your peers. Networking sounds complicated, but all it entails is getting to know others and talking about your interests and goals. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” The bigger your network, the better your chances are a getting more resources and professional opportunities.

Hopefully, this advice will help you become better prepared for job fairs other career development events. I wish you the best of luck, and never hesitate to ask for assistance if you need it.

Of Possible Interest: 

Read Tony’s other posts

Photo Source: Unsplash | RawPixel

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