Preparing for Career Fairs and Employer Information Sessions


Preparing for Career Fairs and Employer Information Sessions

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Benefits of Attending Career Fairs

Career fairs and info sessions offer lots of benefits that could go overlooked:

  • Learn about the myriad types of jobs available in any given industry
  • Get your foot in the door with lots of companies all in one day
  • Get a Co-op position without writing a cover letter
  • Get a full-time position for after graduation without a cover letter

Personally, I find the last two benefits the most attractive, because writing a great cover letter can be a difficult and time-consuming process. Why struggle with writer's block when you can skip it and go straight to the interview? In fact, by meeting a member of the company in person, you can leave a lasting impression; employers will consider your application before those who simply mailed in their application form.

Preparing for Career Fairs

For all the reasons above, career fairs and info sessions are great; but there are some things that you need to do before getting that awesome job from a career fair.

Your Attire

Recruiters at career fairs and info sessions are going to be bombarded with lots of students asking questions and submitting resumes, so it's imperative that you stand out from the crowd, right from the beginning. That means you need to come dressed in business casual attire. There is a good article on interview dress code, written by Grace Chiu, who says that for interviews,

“A two-piece matched suit would be the best and safest way to go for both women and men. The suit should also be in solid colors, such as black, gray, or navy. It would also be better to avoid any weave or stripe patterns, though subtle ones may be acceptable. For women, under the suit jacket a blouse or a good quality knit shell with a color that coordinates well with the suit’s color is most appropriate. For men, a long-sleeved shirt, in white or light blue (for example), and a tie that complements the color of the suit would be necessary.”

By business casual, I mean what Grace described above, except without the suit jacket and tie. By dressing well, employers will be able to distinguish you from everyone else they meet that day. Most importantly, you will show them that you're a dedicated individual that has actually put some thought, time, and effort into preparing for the career fair.

If you've ever been to a career fair at SFU before, you know that barely anyone comes dressed like this. That is why it is so important to do it! Don't be afraid to stand out. Each recruiter will talk to hundreds of students during a single career fair; you want to be the one he or she remembers.

Your Introduction

Alright, now that you've got the appropriate attire for career fairs, we need to prepare how you're going to introduce yourself to the recruiters. Your introduction concisely conveys your value to the recruiters. In your introduction you should include, preferably in this order,

  1. Your name
  2. Your year of study (e.g. 2nd year)
  3. Your field of study (e.g. computing science, business, or communication)
  4. Where you did your previous Co-op work terms (if you have already done some) or where you have previous work experience from
  5. When you intend to do your next Co-op work term (if you are in the Co-op program or considering joining the Co-op program)
  6. A question to continue the conversation. (e.g. “Do you hire Co-op students?” or “Can you tell me a little more about your company?”)

Now that's a lot to include in an introduction, but when done fluently, it is impressive. Remember that you want the recruiter to think, “Wow, this kid really knows what he/she's doing. If we don't take him/her now, someone else surely will.” Here's what I would say:

“Hi, my name is Malcolm Lalkaka. I'm a third year Co-op student at SFU studying computing science and minoring in business. I did my last Co-op work term at ABC Software Corporation, and I intend to do my next Co-op work term this summer. Do you hire Co-op students?

While introducing yourself, firmly shake the recruiter's hand. Also remember to practice and memorize this introduction before going to the career fair. Bringing this type of professionalism is refreshing for recruiters, who have spent the whole day simply giving away free swag. (That's not to say free swag isn't great!)

Your Resume

Bring one resume per employer you intend to approach, plus a couple extra in case you discover some new employers that you're interested in. With the level of professionalism you'll be bringing to the table, don't be surprised if recruiters ask you for your resume.

Your Cover Letter

You don't need one! Aren't career fairs great? Your face-to-face discussion with the recruiter replaces the cover letter, and is worth a lot more from the recruiter's point of view. Having said that, if you are attending an information session for a particular employer, preparing a cover letter wouldn't hurt.

Your Interview Mindset

Since employers are primarily there to hire people, recruiters will certainly want to know more about you. So be prepared for an impromptu behavioural interview right at the career fair. This has happened to me before. As with any behavioural interview, be prepared to answer questions like,

  • What type of jobs do you like the most?
  • Have you ever worked in a team before? How did that go?
  • How have you resolved a disagreement with a team member?

Although most employers will not interview you extensively at the career fair, they may do it casually and subtly. Furthermore, you need to have a few questions to ask the recruiters. For example:

  • What are some challenges that I'm likely to face in a {Job Title} position at {Company Name}?
  • What is the company culture like at {Company Name}?
  • What does {Company Name} do to promote work-life balance?

During Career Fairs

During career fairs, there's a basic process that you can follow:

  1. Find an employer that interests you.
  2. Approach the recruiter and initiate a conversation using your prepared introduction.
  3. Answer any questions the recruiter asks, and ask some interesting questions of your own.
  4. Thank the recruiter for taking the time to talk to you, and ask for his/her card.
  5. If the recruiter hasn't done so already, ask whether you can leave him/her with your resume.
  6. Return to step 1.

It's that simple!

After Career Fairs

A couple of days after career fairs, you should email all the employers who gave you their card or email address to thank them one more time, and to show that you are still interested in working at their company. I might write something like this:

Hello Ms. {Recruiter's Last Name},
My name is Malcolm Lalkaka; we met at the career fair at SFU a few days ago. I'd just like to thank you again for taking the time to tell me about {Company Name}. I would be interested in doing a Co-op work term there. If you have any more questions about my application, please feel free to email me or call me.

Malcolm Lalkaka
{Email Address}
{Phone Number}

At this point, you have made strong contacts at multiple companies, all in one day!

Beyond the Article

Posted on March 03, 2011