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College student at a career fair

Career fairs are an awesome way to connect with different companies and even land your dream job. But how can you make time to speak with every representative there and be knowledgeable enough to present yourself as the ideal candidate?

We spoke with Quicken Loans Senior University Relations Manager Jen Fortuna and University Relationship Manager Cecil Johnson to get the inside scoop. Read on to explore their checklist for making a memorable impression at any career fair.

Career Fairs Are for Everyone

While it may seem like a lot of career fair attendees are students at universities, many public career fairs welcome career searchers of all ages and stages. Career fairs promote networking and let you take advantage of conversations with company recruiters and representatives so you can explore open opportunities. If you’re an underclassman in college or at a university, be open to attending career fairs as early as your freshman year.

Johnson and Fortuna recommend treating these events as practice to groom your conversation and interview skills. “Who knows? Talking with recruiters early in your college career could help you land a summer internship, which can help round out your resume,” Fortuna says.

Interning at a company is a great way to explore a career option if you’re looking to make a career change or you want to get your foot in the door. “Use career fairs to see if internship opportunities are available, and take this chance to interview the company and find out more about if the company would be a good long-term match for you,” says Johnson.

Do Your Research

If you’re attending a career fair at your college or university, your school will likely release a list of companies attending the fair. Take time to review the list and see if companies you’re interested in will be there.

If you’re unfamiliar with the background of companies you plan to speak to, put on your detective hat to do some sleuthing prior to the event. You should have a basic idea of the business goals and visions for the companies you plan to target if you want the recruiter to see that you’re interested.

“An understanding of what the company does is crucial,” Johnson notes. “Remember that the recruiters on campus are there to speak with you about your interest in the company and potential opportunities, not to fill you in on basic information you could have researched before you came to the career fair booth.”

If you can dig up information deeper than just the company’s overall business objectives, like accolades and awards they’ve earned, more power to you. “I’m always impressed when candidates know about the Quicken Loans servicing awards or tell me that they’re interested in volunteering with our community service initiatives,” Fortuna says.

Plan Ahead

Once you’ve researched the companies you find interesting, create a list of the companies you absolutely have to get a chance to speak with. You should narrow down your target to five or 10 companies to make sure you have time to dedicate to each, especially if you’ll be attending a particularly busy event.

With your targeted list, develop your career fair strategy by studying the layout of the event to plan the order of who you’ll visit. Johnson suggests visiting your primary company of choice first if you anticipate long lines.

The night before the fair, print extra copies of your resume and store them in a folder you can bring with you as you browse the event. This way, you’ll be prepared to pass out your resume if you find awesome new startups or connect with companies you didn’t consider before.

Suits Don’t Equal Success

As more and more companies embrace everyday wear as acceptable work attire, it can be tricky to figure out how to present yourself at informal career fairs. Johnson and Fortuna advise against extremely casual outfits, like sweatpants or worn-out sneakers, and recommend selecting wardrobe pieces that will help you stand out and show your individual personality. That doesn’t mean you can’t wear a business suit if that option helps you feel confident and comfortable. But don’t hesitate to pair it with fun, bright shoes, a patterned dress shirt or a pretty piece of jewelry that will help you feel more like yourself.

When it comes to dressing for success, Johnson gives us the bottom line: “Make sure you look presentable and professional. That means clothes that are ironed and clean.”

Ask Questions

You’ve planned ahead and have an outfit you can rock. Now, you can practice for the most important part of meeting company representatives: the conversation. Before you let your nerves overwhelm you, take a deep breath. Recruiters aren’t looking to judge you or see if you can recite their company’s entire business plan. They’re there to get to know you and help you find a position, and back-and-forth questions are vital to help accomplish this.

“Consider the career fair as a dual interview. We’re getting to know you, and you should feel us out to see if we’d be a good match for you,” Fortuna says. “We want to know what interests you about our company. It’s much easier for recruiters at career fairs to give you the information you need to apply for positions or in specific areas of the company if we know what you like to do and where your skill sets are.”

As you speak with each company, remember that an attainable position that pays well isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a career. If you’re focused on getting a career that offers flex time, work/life balance or pet-friendly office hours, ask direct questions about company culture. Fitting into the company culture is key to having a productive and happy career life, so navigate the conversation to understand more about what life is like there.

Follow Up

Sending a follow-up note to recruiters you spoke with will help make a lasting impression, and can help make you a competitive candidate for open positions.

This note doesn’t have to be as extravagant as a store-bought or home-made thank you card. Johnson advises sending a concise, pleasant email that summarizes what you discussed with the recruiter and weaving in a notable point from your conversation to create a personal connection.

For example, if you spoke with a recruiter about a marketing position, Johnson recommends sending an email similar to this:

Hi, Cecil-

It was nice meeting you at the career fair. I’d love to speak with you more about my experience in the University Advertising club and to discuss opportunities on the marketing team in greater detail. Looking forward to connecting!

A follow-up email can solidify your connection with the recruiter you spoke with, and it gives them your email information so they can contact you if the right position opens.

Fortuna recommends not only sending a follow-up email, but also connecting with the recruiter on LinkedIn. “Not many people send emails as-is, and this extra touch puts you even closer to that line of connection,” she says.

Now that you have an inside look at career fairs, take the opportunity to shine and get to know us at our Quicken Loans recruiting events. What else would you like to know about speaking with recruiters at a career fair? Let us know in the comments!

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