With the school year in full swing, career fairs are happening around campus, ready for students of all years and majors.

Career fairs are hosted by colleges, academic departments, chapters of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, and Career and Professional Development, and they add up to more than 25 fairs each academic year.

Participating in these career fairs allows students to learn more about employers than possible from their websites. Whether you are looking for a job or an internship, or hoping to learn more about different career fields, taking part in a career fair can foster valuable networking opportunities.

If it’s your first time participating in a career fair, here is a survival guide with helpful tips from the experts at Career and Professional Development.

Before the fair

Research the company in advance.

Before you make your way to a fair, check the career fair list that links to each event’s website. You’ll be able to see which companies and employers are participating in the fair and the positions for which they are hiring. Then, you can start researching relevant information about the company or recruiters who will be in attendance to help tailor your message to each employer.

“Relationships are so important,” said Donna Ratcliffe, the director for  Career and Professional Development. “A company sending representatives to campus, many of whom are alumni, is beneficial to students so that they can meet them in-person and promote themselves. That’s how you make connections”

Make a list of your top choices.

While numerous employers may interest you, you might not have time to connect with every employer, and not every employer may be a fit for you. By making an “A” list for your top companies and a “B” list for a selection of secondary choices, you can focus your attention on a select few companies and avoid feeling overwhelmed by the myriad of recruiters and company booths.

Additionally, job fairs often have long lines, so Ratcliffe recommends carving out enough time to be there, which might require making alternate plans with prior commitments.

Have your resume on hand.

Make multiple copies of your resume to hand out to various recruiters, even if you didn’t get enough time to speak to them. Providing hard copies of resumes to employers will make it easy for them to glance over your skills and experiences while they’re speaking with you. Sometimes, employers cannot accept hard copy resumes and will ask you to apply online. Even so, making the effort to provide a resume to each employer is a great way to convey interest and diligence toward a company.

Prepare an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch is a short but memorable description of who you are, your career interest, and why an employer should be interested in you. Preparing an elevator pitch ahead of time can help ease you into a conversation with a recruiter without feeling overwhelmed about what information to share first.

To best deliver your elevator pitch, Ratcliffe advised to prepare but not memorize your pitch to avoid sounding unnatural and robotic.

A company recruiter, at left, talks with four students (gathered at right).
A company recruiter (at left) talks with four students at a time at the Business Horizons career fair. Photo by Andy Santos for Virginia Tech.

During the fair

Be mindful of first impressions.

How you come across to employers isn’t only based on your skills and expertise; your first impression plays a large role too. It can be difficult to stay calm and positive during overwhelming events such as career fairs, but keeping a smile on your face, wearing business casual clothing, and offering a firm handshake let employers know you are serious in their company.

Keep an open mind.

You might end up having more time than expected to talk with other employers. Even if the company is not one that is of immediate interest to you, you might learn something to your advantage. Having an open mind when speaking to different employers will allow you to practice initiating a conversation in a less formal business environment.

Some employers might also show less interest in you than you show in them, but Ilina Ilieva, a senior studying international relations who attended this year’s Business Horizons career fair, said to not let this affect the rest of your career fair experience.

“Trying to be as authentic as possible is always important,” said Ilieva. “You might not fit every company’s criteria and it’s OK if you get rejected, but always try to be authentic and lead with a smile.”

For more advice on surviving career fairs, Career and Professional Development at Virginia Tech provides helpful resources and guidance for choosing majors, internships, and future careers. Students can make appointments by Zoom, by phone, and in person.

Written by Cyna Mirzai, a senior and an intern for Virginia Tech Communications and Marketing

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