The time is 2:52. I unfold my clenched hands and gently graze the sides of my blazer once more as I slip into my three -inch heels. My eyes flicker up and catch a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. The stark contrast of my jet-black suit against my freckled, fair skin makes me look like a high profile businesswoman. Not too shabby.
I carefully swipe a layer of red lipstick across my lips, nervously glancing at the clock once again. I feel a deep sense of paranoia about the possibility of being late. I grab my purse and pivot towards the door. Driver’s license? Check. Business cards? Check. Resume? Check. And off I go.
This is a very real depiction of my very first career fair here at college.
I have to say that attending a career expo is one of the greatest pursuits you could make during your undergraduate- or even graduate- career. Regardless of whether you think you’re too young to get noticed, your major doesn’t exactly fit the model companies are seeking, or your “dream” company isn’t in attendance, networking experience is invaluable and there is no better way to gain mingling skills than practice, practice, practice!
As I hobbled over to the expo center that first day, my confidence teetered as thoughts of self-doubt began to penetrate my mind. This was my first attempt at snagging a summer internship and I, to be completely honest, had no idea what I was doing.
Looking back on this day, I know I could have prepared better. For this exact reason, I have decided to compile my experiences into a list of Do’s and Don’ts so that readers like you can walk into your first career fair or interview with a sparkling sense of style and more unwavering confidence than I had my first time!
Tip #1: Dress to Impress
No matter how old you are, putting on a blazer can automatically demand a certain level of respect from whomever you’re talking to. Pair that blazer with a pencil skirt or dress pants and you’re more than halfway to your ultimate intern runway look. But dressing classy doesn’t have to end there. Once you’ve nailed the basics, you can feel free to show off your sense of personal style with modest jewelry, light-painted fingernails (without chips) and a pair of low, comfy, closed-toed heels. Perfume can up your game as well, but beware of how much you put on: a little goes a long way. You can also research your company beforehand to gauge how conservative they dress when deciding upon a skirt length, blazer color, or accessory item, but just remember: it is typically better to be safe than sorry!
Aside from physical clothing, wearing a smile can do wonders for developing your personal connection with an interviewer.
Tip #2: Bring your resume
Whenever you walk into an interview, it’s a good idea to carry at least three copies of your resume with you. If you’re going to a career fair, you should up that number to somewhere around twenty. You never want to be talking to an employer and not have a resume to give them, should they ask for it. Some other nice investments to consider might be a portfolio folder. Mine is black leather, and has pockets for my resume, business cards, as well as a pen holder, and a built-in notebook for: you guessed it… notetaking! As they say, you can never be too prepared.
Tip #3: Get familiar with your surroundings
There’s nothing worse than getting to a big career expo and having all kind of plans regarding which companies you want to talk to, and then getting swept into the sea of people and tossed around from booth to booth, never quite sure where you are. The easiest fix to this? Get a floor layout map as soon as you arrive on site, so you can map out your rounds and make sure you always know where you are and where you want to go.
Tip #4: Research your top companies in advance!
Trust me, there is nothing more embarrassing than chatting up a representative from a company and them asking you the most direct question possible: “so what is it that you particularly like about [x] company?” and you not having an answer… Let me tell you: been there, done that. The best way to prevent this is to research all of the companies beforehand and make a little cheat sheet of notes for yourself on the main points of each one so that you can refer to it if faced with a situation such as above. Also, key point: don’t ask basic questions which can be answered by simply visiting the company’s website. That definitely doesn’t impress reps. Instead, ask insightful questions regarding specific internship details you don’t see on the website, or about how you can take the first step towards snagging one!
Tip #5: Sell yourself!
OWN YOUR MAJOR. Make it show why YOU stand out and SHINE. I remember at one of my school’s career fairs, I was talking to a representative from a tech and engineering firm who was strictly looking for computer, software, or electrical engineers for an internship position. I happen to be biomedical. Upon shaking the rep’s hand, I confidently told him who I was, why I was interested, and what qualities made me just as qualified for the position as an electrical or software engineer. Turns out he was impressed, took my name down, called me the next day, and told me that his company had met and discussed the points I had made, resulting in them altering their educational criteria as listed on the job description, thereby allowing me to apply for the position!
The point is, career expos can feel daunting at first. Talking to hundreds of people while getting judged on your appearance and ability to articulate yourself well might not seem all that fun. But, the truth is, you can make the experience fun, memorable, and worthwhile simply by preparing for it in the right ways.
I’m taking my next leap of faith this October in Nashville, TN! I was invited to the Society of Women Engineers 2015 National Conference and I couldn’t be more excited! Truth is, I’m a little nervous. With nearly 300 companies in attendance, including some of the biggest powerhouses of tech including Google, IBM, and General Electric, this is, by far, the biggest interview challenge I have ever taken on. However, I am confident that if I follow my own advice and prepare well, it’ll be a great experience! (Plus, I mean, Nashville? Heck yes, I have always wanted to visit the Music Hall of Fame). And see? This just goes to show that career development can be rewarding in more ways than just one.
So now it’s time to take the plunge and begin your career advancement with your next career fair. Just remember: with a little preparation and confidence, you will be good to go!
Colleen Plesac is a student at University of Miami.