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Let’s be honest. Career fairs could be just as scary as going on a blind date. You are confidently invited by a friend to meet a total stranger because this person thinks the two of you will be the ideal match. You find yourself looking for the perfect outfit, rehearsing your introduction, selecting the right restaurant, and making sure you arrive on time; all in hopes that your friend got it right this time.

Attending a career fair, whether it’s your first or tenth, may trigger the same feelings as going on a blind date: anxiety, optimism, confusion, or insecurity. Consequently, you may find yourself avoiding future blind dates, or in our case career fairs, and eventually missing an opportunity to meet The One, again in our case an internship or job offer. However, with the right attitude and preparation, you can overcome your career fair fear (no pun intended!) and maybe even look forward to attending them!

Pre-date Jitters. Before a blind date, how many times do you change your outfit, question the restaurant or movie you will attend, or inquire as much information from the matchmaker about your date? Well the same applies for career fairs! Before attending one, find out which companies will be there and prioritize the ones you want to visit. It is recommended that you identify 5-7 employers most aligned with your career goals.  Spend some time researching these companies and find out all you can about them. What is their mission, values, or recent news about them? The more you know the better, and employers will be impressed with the knowledge and interest you have in them. In return, you will gain confidence and also alleviate any pre-career fair jitters. You don’t want to take your date to a seafood restaurant if they are allergic to fish, right? Do your homework!

First Impression Matters. Accepting an invitation to go on a blind date will probably raise your curiosity to how the person will look. If they arrive with sweatpants, unruly hair, and 30 minutes late, you know they didn’t put the effort to impress you. Your first impression on a blind date is usually correct.  And an employer’s first impression of you may be correct too! Use good judgment in what you wear and project professionalism. Traditionally, most attendees wear business professional attire; a.k.a. conservative, clean suits for both men and women. Sorry trendsetters, this is not the time to sport your new sandals or leather jackets. As the adage goes, dress for the job you want! Also, bring a nice folder to carry your resume and business cards, and a notepad and pen for taking notes. Speaking of resumes, remember to update your resume and bring many, many clean, crisp copies to handout!

Approach & Conversation. So now you are arriving at the venue and are about to meet your date. Anxiety ensues, then you start questioning the appropriate introductory greeting (is it a hug or handshake?), then you think about possible topics of conversation, and before you know it your date is standing right in front of you! Luckily, you already did some of your research and are confident to talk about their interests and hobbies. Now at career fairs, approach employers with a firm handshake and introduce yourself. Enter the “elevator speech”: a concise and memorable introductory statement that sums up who you are and why you’re worth hiring; highlight your skills, strengths, and relevant experience. Practice your pitch until you are comfortable using this as your opening. You might feel awkward talking to a mirror, but when you’re speaking to a recruiter, a little practice will build your “small talk” confidence! For more details about the elevator speech, click here: http://www.northwestern.edu/careers/students/employment-skills/elevator-speech.html

During your conversation with the company representative, recall the information obtained from your company research to ask inquisitive questions. Ask about the industry, what job opportunities exist, and always try to relate your skills and experience to the company or jobs that may be open. At the end of your conversation, hand your resume and always request for the employer’s business card so that you can follow-up.

Happily Ever After? Finally, the blind date is coming to an end and you surprisingly find yourself having a good time. Now, do you talk about the second date or wait for them to initiate the idea? In terms of career fairs, when they are over, your work isn’t! It is important to keep yourself fresh in the mind of the employers by sending a follow-up or thank you e-mail within two days. Always refer to the date and location of the job fair. Try and highlight any part of the conversation that stood out to make it easy for them to remember you. In addition, include a copy of your resume. If there were employers you did not have the opportunity to connect with, send them a message articulating your interest and regret that you did not meet them at the event.

So next time you see a flyer for a Career Fair or get invited to go on a blind date, don’t be afraid…half the battle is just putting yourself out there. For more information on career fairs, check out: http://www.northwestern.edu/careers/students/employment-skills/how-to-work-a-career-fair.html Don’t miss out on the next amazing career fair opportunity! UCS is currently hosting 2 events:  

MLK Public Interest and Internship and Job Fair: Meet employers in the education, government, and non-profit sectors offering internships and full-time employment. For specific companies/positions, visit CareerCat. Date: 1/10, 12:00-4:00pm, Norris, Louis Room.

Winter Expo 2012: Meet employers offering internships and/or full-time employment in the public and private sectors. For specific companies/positions, visit CareerCat. Date: 1/12, 12:00-4:00pm, Norris, Louis Room.