So why is the Career Fair so important? After all, most of the time students feel as if they stand in line (sometimes 30 minutes, especially with the larger companies) just to talk to a company representative who then basically tells them to go apply on the website. What a waste of time right? Wrong! Look, when you boil it down the Career Fair is a chance to be seen; a chance to impress.
Yes, the odds are not in your favor when there are dozens of students in line trying to do the same thing. But let's approach it another way. Let's break it down to what I like to call, "The Prime Directive," or your number one priority for being there.
There are a few tricks and tips I will tell you that will make you stand out at any company, no matter how many people are in line. These tricks have proven to be very effective by students I have taught, across the U.S. at colleges and universities from coast to coast. But they are rarely used and I always wondered why for years; until I discovered that students just don't know about them.
I am surprised that many students are not quite sure what their number one priority is at the Career Fair. Yes, they want to impress company reps in hopes to get hired....but hold on! That sounds right, but you're missing a big step. Simply put, your number one priority should be ...TO GET AN INTERVIEW! It is not to get a job! At least not yet. What company would talk to you for 3 minutes at the Career Fair booth and then just offer you a job without an interview?
Of course, there are a couple of exceptions. For example, freshmen or sophomores who are not familiar with what companies want or what is out there may come to the Career Fair to learn what it is all about; to get the lay of the land. That's fine. It is actually more than fine. It is an excellent idea that I encourage all underclassman to do. But I would argue that they are still linked into The Prime Directive. They are learning how to work the event. They are learning what they are in for so when they are ready, they have the tools to put their best foot forward and score an interview. Another exception is people that go just to get the FREE giveaways. But they clearly are not in the demographic recruiters are looking for.
OK, so let me take you through the Career Fair step by step. You should have plenty of copies of your resume. You should be dressed up in your interview clothes...please understand: to recruiters, the Career Fair is a mini interview or a short screening interview. Your job is to impress them enough so that they send you to the next step. For many companies, that is an interview for the next day on campus. But that is not always the case. For some, it may be a phone interview at some time in the future.
The bottom line: Your job is to impress the recruiter enough so that they will want to send you to the next step in the process, the interview.
But how do you do that with so many people trying to do the same thing? Well, there are some specific things you can do to greatly enhance your chances:
TIP #1: Bring Past Performance Evaluations and your "A" Game
So now, you show up to the Career Fair booth. You are dressed properly, and you are prepared. However, so are most of those great candidates in line with you...and not everyone is going to succeed at The Prime Directive (to get an interview) because there is a limited number of interview slots. For example, at the Career Fair booth, I probably have chosen one out of every ten to fifteen candidates to interview. But you don't have to worry about that. You have something extra. You have something that will most assuredly show the recruiter they should take a chance on you and give you an interview. You have something that will reduce their fear of making the mistake of picking the wrong person.
This something is a copy of your past performance evaluation. This is HUGE! What is more powerful than handing them your resume and then handing them a past performance evaluation that is excellent? There are very few tips or tricks that have this level of effectiveness at changing a recruiter's mind set over to your side so quickly.
I cannot express to you how powerful this is. Again, as we talked about, recruiting is not an exact science. It is not a hard science like a mathematical equation where it is either a right or wrong answer. Yes, we have official interview forms that quantifiably score each person on the same set of criteria. But there is no way, I repeat, no way to take all the subjectivity out of the equation. In this situation, you are at the Career Fair. Your job is to impress the recruiter enough to get an interview. By you offering a written document from another company or by your past boss, illustrating that you are a top performer and that your past work has been great, means not only are you well prepared, but you have shown the recruiter you are willing to take the extra step; go the extra mile. You are proud of your past work and your past performance, and you are essentially saying to the recruiter, "This is the kind of performance you can expect if you help me get into your company."
JACKPOT! By providing them a copy of a past performance evaluation, you have shown them you are not just another candidate. You have shown them that the risk they have in choosing you for an interview and potential job is low. You have shown them that you are prepared and have the right attitude. Try it! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This just might be that one thing that gets you the interview!
The best performance evaluations are those that are quantifiable; in other words, they score you on a scale of numbers. Also, they need to be signed by your manager or your boss. A letter of recommendation is NOT a performance evaluation and it is not quantifiable. It is not the same thing nor does it carry even close to the same weight. As a matter of fact, it carries very little weight simply because I know it is going to put you in a positive light. But a performance evaluation scores or ranks you in many performance areas. It just doesn't simply say you were great, it tells the story of your greatness across many categories.
TIP #2: Listen for the questions
You are prepared, you have plenty of copies of your resume and your past performance evaluation, and you are standing in line waiting to talk to the recruiter. Why is it that while standing in line most candidates talk to their friends, talk on their cell phone, text message, and look around seemingly in a daze, etc...? Then, when you get up to the booth, you do your best at answering the questions we ask you. But what if there was a way for you to know the questions we are going to ask you before you get up to the booth. Well there is! Here's how:
While standing in the line of companies that are at the top of your list to work for, listen to the questions that the recruiters are asking the candidates ahead of you. This is simple yet brilliant! Why? Because recruiters for the most part develop a script or set of questions they like to ask all candidates at the Career Fair. This is human nature. Do you think we make up new questions for everyone we see? Well, we don't.
In general, we stick to the same few questions for each candidate. That is why if you listen to the questions we are asking the candidates ahead of you, we will probably ask you the same ones or some of the same ones. In the Career Fair seminar that I teach when I go out on campuses, I even go as far as telling the students that before they stand in line, to approach the booth casually and to listen to the questions. Then write them down. Next, go to the end of the line and while you are waiting, formulate your answers. If you are not comfortable with that, after you listen to the questions, walk to some quiet corner of the room and formulate your answers. Then, get back in line and practice them until you are next.
If you don't like either of those methods, get a friend to do some reconnaissance for you. Have them causally listen in on the questions and report back to you. Now that I think about it, you could even hire a freshman for like $3 to go up to the booth and ask the recruiter what questions they normally ask candidates. Freshmen come to the booth all the time asking what we look for in candidates and what they should do to prepare for a future job with us, questions like this.
Yes, there are times when we see something on your resume that we ask specifically about, but it is usually something positive that we picked up on. Also, at booths that have little traffic, the recruiters have a lot more time to spend so they might ask you more questions...but that is because they have time because they don't have a lot of people coming to their booth. So now you have even less competition, and those tips I have mentioned still are extremely effective.
TIP #3: Ask for an Interview
This tip is probably the most effective tip I have seen used successfully many, many times but only if you do it the right way. Don't make the mistake of thinking that if you just ask for an interview, you will get one, although you might. You have to both do it at the right time and use the right words. This is the key! Here is how: You did both Huge Tip #1 & #2 and you are talking to the recruiter. Chances are that if you followed both tips before this one, the recruiter is just signing you up for an interview.
But what if that has not happened yet and the conversation is winding down? Let's say the recruiter starts to say something like, "Well, you have some really good things on your resume. Make sure you go apply online, and you have a good chance at getting noticed." Then, the recruiter reaches out his/her hand to shake yours. What this means is that you didn't get an interview, and they are trying to politely conclude with you and get on to the next person.
But wait! You still have a great opportunity to get an interview. This is when you use the best tip. I would call it a "Hail Mary" play, but it is much more effective than that. This is exactly what you say, "I would really appreciate an interview with you tomorrow. If you grant me an interview, I promise I won't let you down." POWERFUL! Read it again but read it slow. Do you see the emotion? Do you see that it is not only a personal plea but a promise you are making to that recruiter? This is psychology, and it works!
You have now infused emotion into the equation. You have gotten the recruiter out of their script and out of their comfort zone and you, in two sentences, made it personal. You made yourself the underdog. Everyone loves to root for the underdog. I have seen how effective it is because I came up with it and I have taught it. You would not believe how successful this technique is. What do you have to lose? Nothing! You were being told to go to the website. You were done. But then you came thundering back with this statement. You changed the game. It works! Just do it!
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