As a 2015 MBA alumnus working in the higher education industry, I’d take no hesitation in encouraging current students to attend career fairs and recruitment days. From my experience, these events see visiting companies set up a stall and engage with students through Q&As, talks and interviews, and offer merchandise. For students, these events present new opportunities, new relationships, access to first-hand knowledge, and an opportunity to represent their universities.
Just last year, I was a student at Hult International Business School and visited careers fairs myself. For those in the final year of a degree and eager to start building the bridge between education and employment, here are my insights and observations as to how to make the most of these events.
Know your end-game
A common conversation at this time of year revolves around the question ‘what do you want to do after you graduate?’ In my experience, too many responses fall along the lines of ‘we’ll see what happens’ or ‘I’m not exactly sure yet’ or ‘I have no idea’. If you go into a career fair with this attitude, chances are you won’t get a lot out of it.
You need to know exactly what you want to achieve on the day so you know where to channel your energy. Once you have this figured out, make a list. Start by jotting down the companies that interest you. Then make a note of the individuals from each company you’d like to introduce yourself to. You now have at least enough direction to avoid wandering around awkwardly. And remember: it’s not a race to collect the most business cards. Keep your list short and focused.
Do your research
After you’ve made your list of companies to introduce yourself to, you’ll need to dive a little deeper. At the very least, you’ll need to understand the company’s core business, vision and values. Some knowledge on each of the individuals and their background will allow you to ask the right questions and hold conversation with confidence. Despite what we’re taught in school, there is such a thing as a foolish question – but by doing your research, you’ll avoid asking one.
Image by Michael Starghill, used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.
Keep a solid elevator pitch up your sleeve
Bearing in mind that the employers visiting the career fair will meet tens, maybe hundreds of students on the day, it’s important to have a captivating story. Think about how to make sure they’ll remember you. Your elevator pitch must be short, concise and powerful enough to ensure you remain in the employers’ minds.
A good way to prepare your elevator pitch is by attempting to tell your story in no more than one minute. Start with the words ‘I was born in’ and end with ‘and that’s why I’m here’. Make sure you reflect on your biggest skill set, your career background and what motivates you.
You may even need a couple of different elevator pitches, but do remember to rehearse each one. I can guarantee you’ll need them on multiple occasions throughout the day.
In his book Never Eat Alone, New York Times Best Selling Author and networking expert Keith Ferrazzi encourages readers to approach every conversation with the attitude of ‘what can I do to help this person’ as opposed to ‘what can this person do to help me’. Perhaps you can introduce them to someone in your circle of influence who is a potential client, or do some creative work for them for free.
Personally, I got a whole new creative approach to networking after I took on this attitude. While I studied I was a part of the Hult Media Club and launched a podcast channel. I hosted this channel where I reached out and interviewed industry leaders who wanted to have a footprint in the higher education community. This gave my contacts the chance to market their business, while providing me with the chance to get to know loads of interesting people, including CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors and even an astronaut. Although it didn’t have any direct benefit at the time, I added value to these people which in turn made my CV more marketable by the end of the programme.
This is a no-brainer: ensure you follow-up with people you meet at the fair. Keep the follow-ups short and sweet, and make sure you reflect on the conversation you had. You may wish to follow-up with a message once a month. This could be a link to an article, a book, or a blog that reminds you of your conversation you had with them. Do this in line with the above steps and I’m sure your response rates will be high – as will the opportunities that come your way.
What tips do you have for students attending higher ed careers fairs? Let us know with a comment or tweet us.
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