Navigating a career fair like a professional

Whether you’re looking for an internship or full-time job, attending a career fair is often the best first step toward achieving your goal. But with swarms of qualified people, loud conversations and professionalism flowing from every corner of the room, walking into one can be truly intimidating. It’s a wonder that some people don’t run out overwhelmed. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the career fair experience:

Know your elevator speech

For those who don’t know, an elevator speech is a 30-second pitch about your strongest qualities and experiences you want to highlight. This gives recruiters a better impression of what you’re looking for and is short enough to keep their attention. If you don’t want to memorize your speech, write down some key points to discuss. Make sure you practice before you actually speak with someone from a company.

“In my business class, we were taught the importance of always knowing our elevator speech,” said Cory Nelson, freshman in Business. “Our professor mentioned that any of us could bump into an executive from our dream company, whether in an elevator or at the career fair. It’s beneficial to know what to say if that ever happens.”

Be confident

It doesn’t matter if you have job experience or your grades aren’t perfect. If you believe in yourself and act like you know what you’re doing, others will believe in you, too. Approach a recruiter with a smile on your face, shake their hand and give them your resume. If you act with confidence, the environment will feel much more relaxing, and the conversation should run smoother. Being confident shows employers that you are capable and trust your own abilities.

“Sometimes I’ll see a student who doesn’t have the best resume, but will just blow me away with their confidence,” said Amy Jorgenson, recruiter for Michelin. “They’ll say they know they’re not the best at school, but they’ll prove they can be phenomenal at work. I like hearing that. It’s refreshing.”

Underclassmen should attend as well

When the words “I’m a freshman” come out of your mouth, some recruiters might give you the cold shoulder. As unfortunate as that is, that’s just the way it goes for some companies. Freshmen typically do not have the knowledge or skills to work for a company just yet. However, that doesn’t mean that these companies do not value you. Many companies offer job shadows or leadership programs for underclassmen wanting to someday work for them. Starting off a conversation by asking about these opportunities can show recruiters that you are interested in the company and have done some research. They are more likely to speak to you if they see that initiative.

Adopt a professional demeanor

This is a must. A professional demeanor consists of dressing in appropriate business professional attire and looking presentable. There’s nothing a recruiter dislikes more than a student who walks up to them in cutoffs and a T-shirt, popping gum and looking disheveled. If you’re serious about finding a job or internship, dress the part. Show that you care. Show that you are willing to make the effort for them, and they will be willing to do the same.

“How you look makes a huge difference,” said Jonathan Goldberg, recruiter for 3M. “I definitely won’t take a student seriously if they’re not dressed appropriately.”

If you don’t have any business attire, stop by Express or Banana Republic at Champaign’s Market Place Mall. These stores often have business attire discounts for students at certain times of the year.

Bring business cards

Although these aren’t necessary, you can always make a good impression with some simple business cards. The University offers students opportunities to make custom business cards at a discounted price at with the Illinois logo.

But you’ll want to avoid putting a business card in every recruiter’s hand. The trick is to time out the conversation so that at the end, the recruiter will offer you his or her business card first, and then you can do the same. Feel free to email recruiters after speaking to them.

Come prepared

Make sure you get a good night’s sleep and eat before you go on your job search. This also means editing your resume weeks beforehand. Try to schedule a resume critique with the Career Services Center. They will give you pointers on how to structure your resume and tips to work on improving it.

“The Career Center helped me rip apart my resume,” said Lisa Jonas, sophomore in DGS. “They helped change the formatting, the wording, everything. It’s definitely worth your time to ask for their help.”

Jolie is a sophomore in Business. She can be reached at [email protected]