Career fairs are huge in Germany. Having attended a few this past year, I feel qualified enough to draw up my Top-10 list to get the most out of career fairs. So, in descending order, here they are:
Number 10 is the most crucial one; its the start and probably the toughest part.
10. Selection of career fairs- At Number 10, find out which career fairs are held at which times of the year and which ones interest you. Planning for a fair is a task in itself if you want to make the most of your time visiting the fair. One could easily get overwhelmed by the detailed information for about at least 50 fairs a year. Some career-fairs are clearly targeted at specific audiences; like a career-fair for law graduates or natural sciences enthusiasts. Still others are a lot more broad-based and focus on multiple industries. To make sure you choose the right fairs, adopt the two-pronged approach of first knowing the career-fair’s focus and second, the details of the companies participating in the fair. You should quickly scan as many of the companies, ideally all of them if the first filter is successful; good sources are the short overview that most career-fair sites provide, the internet sites of the companies, and people in your network who work at these companies. The second filter is most important for generic fairs with a focus on multiple industries. It could be the case that the fair seems appealing but you already are in talks with several of the companies at the fair. Then again, the fair may seem not very interesting but sometimes there are hidden champions, which at first glance may not seem that obvious.
A good place to start -> Job sites that publish the calendar of upcoming career fairs.
Tip: attend a career fair that’s small and more niche initially to get a feel of the process, even if it’s got just about 2 or 3 firms that you are interested in. This will help you get over the awkwardness of approaching firms at the stands. Overall, attend at least 3-4 career fairs, when you are actively looking for a job. It adds a lot of momentum to the job-search. Plus there are at least 2 – 3 employers who are interested in you and that hugely increases one’s confidence.
Numbers 9 and 8 pertain to registration and preparation for the event, in terms of the companies, content of the fairs and your CV/ Covering letter.
9. Registration for the fair and for Interviews - At number 9 is the actual registration for the fair. Most fairs offer early bird bonuses by way of reduced registration fees/ benefits of group registration. So ask your friends, the more the merrier; you might as well make an event of it. Even more importantly, several of them facilitate interviews on the day of the career fair (In some cases, you need to apply to the jobs posted via the career fair website), so the sooner you register for the fair and apply for the jobs the higher your chances of getting called for an interview, all other things being a great fit.
8. Preparation for the fair and interviews - Number 8 is a very important stage, where you need to make sure that you use your time wisely and research in detail about the companies that you are interested in. Most fairs last a day or two at the most. Depending on the size of the fair, let’s say you have shortlisted 20 companies that you think would be a good fit for you. You need to research in detail about these companies, the open positions on their website, anything in the news that could be relevant to open a discussion, awards the companies won, the Facebook/ twitter pages etc. Also think of specific questions for the companies, along with a set of general questions to fall back upon. The more specific and relevant your questions, the more informed you come across. A typical question, especially from hidden champions and also from career-fair regulars (as an ice-breaker) would be ‘What do you know about our firm?’ You really don’t want to give an ‘Hmmm, yea, I saw your poster on the highway’ kind of answer.
Important to-do – Start preparing your application packages; i.e the tailored covering letter and CV for specific positions or in the form of an Unsolicited Application.
Numbers 7, 6 and 5 are more logistic and administrative in nature but will pretty much decide how much you benefit from the career fair.
7. Preparation of your schedule for the day of the fair- A good starting point is the career fair websites that usually provide a detailed schedule of events; including company presentations, open forums on career-related topics, lectures, etc. Make sure you short list what you are most interested in and have a rough schedule ready with enough time to talk to the companies at the stands and attend the most interesting presentations/ lectures. Trust me; there is a wealth of insight to be obtained if you plan right. A good way to feel more comfortable before approaching a company is to attend the company presentation and break the ice by thanking the speaker for the presentation at the stand. Or if you are visiting the stand, before the presentation, make it a point to know that the company is in fact presenting later in the day.
6. A few days before the career-fair- Make sure your complete Application packet is ready for each company that you choose to visit. A lot of the better organized fairs are serious recruiters and there is a high probability that they ask you for your CV. Having it all prepared and stored in a file ready to be given when asked makes for a good impression. So print those individual covering letters, tailored CVs and make photo copies of your academies and work experience certificates a few days before the career fair. You really don’t want to be burning the copier a day before and putting everything together in the train on the way to the fair; it’s just too stressful. Make sure you have tried out your formal outfit for the day of the fair; if it makes sense invest in a feel-good suit and make sure you wear flat-shoes (this is more for the women). Trust me, I have attended a fair in formal shoes with heels and I was a wreck two hours into the fair. It made sense previously to me since I thought it was all about the formal look, I forgot to be comfortable. Also carry an extra outfit along; you could spill a coffee if Murphy’s Law is determined to work. You could beat Murphy by being better prepared. And if a fair is spread out over two days, try and stay overnight in the city; and don’t cram all the companies in one day. It seems to work better plus usually by day2 you feel like a pro.
5. Freebies at the career fair- several career fairs have hidden freebies, or maybe not so obvious freebies, like a subscription to a magazine or a free photo-shoot or a free CV check. These things are usually listed in the fair-guide and are time-bound. Make sure you add them to your schedule (point 4), so you don’t feel bad about missing out on some real good freebies.
Numbers 4, 3 and 2 on the list pertain to the career-fair day itself.
4. On the day of the career-fair – Talk to the companies that are the highest on your list immediately in the first half on the day of the fair. You are fresher, more alert and are more interested and so are the companies. Sometimes we think that we will talk to THE company later but it may not work out for the best. Of course, you may feel a little out of sorts initially, hence refer back to point 1. The more often you do this, the easier it gets. Another tip is to talk not only to your shortlisted companies but also keep an eye open for interesting companies/ interesting speakers. And make sure you visit some stalls in industries not entirely up your alley just to get a broader perspective. You never know what it may lead to! And do make sure you are drinking enough water and eating right to keep yourself going throughout the long day.
3. Have a conversation with the firm – The best way to communicate your interest in the company and demonstrate that you are a great fit is by asking the right questions. A sure way to make the company lose interest in you is to ask them ‘So, what jobs do you have for my profile?’ They have at least 3-4 other candidates waiting to talk to them; they need to know that you have done your homework. What works best is a short introduction; leading, open questions about specific jobs/ roles in the company (refer back to step3), questions about the career path/ application process/ things that make an application stand out/ what kind of person they are looking for, etc. Make sure you smile and are relaxed, it’s only a conversation and you are getting to know the company. No stress please. And please do not bombard the company representative with a barrage of questions; the idea is to obtain a flavour of the firm, provide a flavour of you and find a fit. If it does fit, you may leave them with a positive impression and they may hand out their visiting card. But the visiting card need not be the be-all-and-end-all of the conversation. If you impressed them and made them feel comfortable, they’ll remember you all right!
2. Taking notes during the fair – You definitely need to make notes about your discussion with the company immediately after the visit. Trust me, 5 hours down the line and it’s all a blur of conversations, suits and names. Make notes on the person you spoke to, the content of your conversation, and follow-up messages to yourself (email Ms. XYZ or Call up Mr. ABC or visit the Facebook page of company BCD). Whatever it may be, write it down, even if you are the reigning champion at all things memory.
Finally, point number 1 is the second-most crucial point on my list; the Numero Uno of making the most of a career fair.
1. After the career-fair – This is the most important one. You need to follow-up as soon as possible with the companies you met at the career fair. When I say follow up, it could be either an online application or just a thank you email or even an immediate response to the email from the company. Some companies make it a point to email the prospective candidates well within a week of the fair. Make sure you respond immediately. Memories are short; memories that met at least 200 students are shorter still. Plus it’s all about momentum; use the post career-fair-high to its fullest.
Good luck and I hope that some of these tips work for you.
In other news, it is the 31st of December and well, I have to say it, like every year; I can’t believe the year has gone by so soon! Its been such a marvelous year and it all feels like a dream; the MBA, my amazing classmates and friends, my school, my new city that feels a lot like home, my favorite coffee place, my favorite pub, my corner in the park, all the experiences; old, new and renewed that have made me so much more than I was in 2010; my 365 days in 2011 have been just the right mix of everything!
Now I cannot wait for tomorrow to ring in 2012. I look forward to new things to do, new places to visit and new friends to make, along with old things that will make me feel regular, old places where I will feel at home and old friendships that will keep me steady.
I wish all of you a very Happy New Year! May 2012 ring in all that’s bright and beautiful, all that’s wise and wonderful, and all that’s fun and cheerful all year long.
Till next year then,