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Navigating the Career Fair: Lessons in Persistence & Experience

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I know we've all had that moment -one of the first few weeks of the semester where we are scrambling to edit our resum├ęs, start having our friends & the Undergraduate Business Career Center set us up on a handful of mock interviews, dry cleaning dress clothes all in order to be adequately ready for "THE CAREER FAIR!" 

I remember back to my freshmen year, it was a windy spring afternoon and I decided to be bold and try and attend the career fair. Adequately dressed up in my "Suit & Tie" (Justin Timberlake approved) I hustled over to TCF Bank Stadium to attend the career fair where all of my upperclassmen peers were all anxiously trying to land that desired internship/full time job. 

As I entered, I remember scrambling to put myself together, making sure I was as ready as possible going up the escalators to the DQ Club Room. By the time I got to the top, my heart had dropped. You all know the feeling, your first career fair...that overwhelming feeling from the unbalanced ratio of recruiters, suits, students, and swag. As soon as I started walking around, the nerves started kicking in. At least for me, everything I was supposed to know prior to the career fair was going out the window during my initial conversations with different recruiters. An overanxious handshake, too much eye contact, and a lot of comments and questions about how "The weather is so nice!" Although I may have made many mistakes during this initial experience, I learned a lot of valuable lessons that have propelled me into becoming a more seasoned undergraduate student that finally understands some of the correct behaviors of successfully navigating a career fair. It is all a learning process that comes with repetition, learning from experiences, and a little luck. After your third or fourth career fair (when hopefully you are a junior or senior), you should be completely confident in your actions and stroll through the fair with authority and spunk!

After attending a few career fairs, here are 4 key tips that I have learned that can help you successfully navigate the career fair with success and poise.

1. Make sure to do your research prior to attending the career fair. Nothing is more embarrassing than going up to a company with no idea in what they do, or having nothing to talk about. Make sure to learn a bit about what the company does, what industry they are in, and potentially some of the positions/internships they are hiring for. This will allow you to look prepared and be primed to land at least a first round interview.

2. Tidy up your suit and tie and dress business professional. The career fair is for you to sell yourself as a prime candidate to a plethora of companies. This is a time for you to try and stand out, but not from the way you dress. Make sure to clean press your suits, clean up your shoes, and iron your clothes. Consult your friends before you go and get their honest opinions on how you look, and to boost your confidence. Finally, when you walk in there, pump yourself up with whatever makes you confident (Personally, I listen to some of my favorite songs - throw on some Justin Timberlake - Suit & Tie, it's the perfect pre-career fair song, I guarantee it).

3. Make sure to attend the career fair by yourself and take a few minutes to plan out a strategic approach to the fair. It's perfectly fine to walk to the career fair with your friends and have them help you up your confidence prior to attending, but once you are finally there make sure to take independent routes. Ultimately, your interests/career goals are going to be different than your friends, and you do not want to follow each other around the whole time. This will minimize the effectiveness of the event and potentially cause you to be perceived with a lack of independence. When you arrive, take a floor plan of where all of the companies are. Circle & create an effective route as to how you will attend the fair. Save the most desired companies that you want to potentially work for with later time slots. In doing so, you can practice your conversations with other companies, and be completely ready to knock your conversations out of the park with your most desired companies once you are warmed up!
 
4. After holding a genuine and engaged conversation with a recruiter make sure to thank them and get their contact information. Although this may seem simple, it's really easy to forget to simply thank someone for their time. These recruiters are taking time out of their busy schedules to come and talk to you so make sure you express your sincere gratitude in their investment in you. Also, make sure to get their contact info so you can follow-up with a thank you and next steps. Generally, the rule of thumb is to follow up within the next 24 hours if possible, and at latest 48 hours. In your thank you, try and make it as unique as possible by writing about a defining moment in your conversations with them so they can remember you by the conversation you had. Recruiters talk to hundreds of students and you have to find a way to stand out. This is one of the easiest avenues for you to do so.

These are just some of my personal experiences and ideologies that have worked for me over the last few years. Everyone has their own strategies, but the most important thing is to be 'you' and let yourself stand out as a young professional!

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