My heart sunk over the weekend as I was reading a Newsweek article entitled “Millenial College Graduate: Young, Educated, Jobless.” Not only are Millenials struggling to find jobs upon graduation, making up about 40% of the unemployed in the United States, but they are doing so with higher student loan debt than ever before. This is very concerning and further underscores the need for college students to have a plan that outlines key steps to be taken each year of their college career to prepare them and position them for employment upon graduation.
One step that (ALL) college students can take, which is very relevant today with the start of a new school year just around the corner, is to attend Fall campus career fairs. No matter where you are in your college career there is value in attending career fairs. For freshman, yes, it will be a challenge to get an internship having just started your college career however it is still important to attend the career fairs in order to get a feel for “how it works” and to learn what companies look for when hiring for internships and entry-level positions. For sophomores and juniors, this is your perfect opportunity to learn more about internship opportunities and get yourself in front of key HR professionals and hiring managers. And for seniors, if you have not yet secured a position upon graduation (likely from a past internship), this is one of the most critical opportunities for you to learn more about entry-level positions and (quickly) articulate in-person what strengths, skills and experiences you have to offer.
So, now matter where you are in your college career, here are a few tips to help prepare for career fairs and make a lasting impression on prospective employers:
Do NOT go straight for the giveaways. As a HR professional who has attended numerous career fairs around the country, I was always amazed by the students who approached the booth and went immediately for the giveaways before engaging in conversation with the recruiters. This does not make a good impression and causes prospective employers to question your priorities and genuine interest in their company. If you must collect giveaways, do so at the end of the career fair, after you have had an opportunity to visit and speak with the companies of interest.
Do NOT travel in packs. Career fairs are a time for you to “sell YOUR brand” to prospective employers and learn more about the companies and the opportunities which fit with YOUR strengths, skills and experiences. It is difficult to stay focused and accomplish this when you are walking around the career fair with your friends.
Do NOT walk up to the booth, hand the recruiter your resume and say nothing. Throughout my career I have seen too many students walk up to a booth, hand over their resume and say nothing. This does not make a positive impression on employers and creates an awkward situation. When you approach a booth do so confidently and with enthusiasm about the company. Introduce yourself (name, year, major), give a firm handshake, and have a few questions prepared that will help you learn more about the company and available job opportunities.