There are numerous career fairs hosted by the University of Pittsburgh each year, all with the goal of introducing students to prospective employers. Students are told to dress professionally and bring plenty of resumes to give away in hopes of landing and internship or job offer. Last week, the College of Business Administration hosted a business-oriented career fair at the David Lawrence Convention Center, where thousands of students showed up with aspirations of making an impression on representatives from 65 companies. With those kinds of numbers, it’s not hard to understand that you really have to be the best of the best in order to stand out.
I attended the last two career fairs as an eager underclassman that was unaware of the challenges already piled against me. The first issue was my age. Many companies won’t even look in your direction unless you’re a junior hoping for an internship, or a senior looking for a full-time offer. Teachers and other proponents of the event say it’s great experience for younger students to get to talk to the employers. While this may be a great opportunity for smalltalk practice, a lot of younger students haven’t realized that their experience doesn’t come anywhere close to the things upperclassmen have achieved. A company won’t be impressed by the sophomore social chair of a fraternity when pitted up against a senior who interned at PNC the previous summer. Resumes are key to landing interviews, but to build them, you’ve got to start at the bottom and work your way up. The biggest struggle is getting that initial boost, and it turns out that there’s a right way and a wrong way to achieve your first success.
For every career fair I’ve been to, I’ve watched students print 30 resumes, give out 25 of them, and receive 0 phone calls. They don’t understand. They wait in line to talk to an employer, smile and act professionally, give them resumes, and walk away feeling like they accomplished something. The student doesn’t realize is that they are the 15th person to talk to the employer in the last 20 minutes, and unless they said something truly phenomenal, as soon as they walk away, they will just become the newest resume in the stack. Unless the first thing listed on your resume is something impressive, it’s hard to get noticed.
Students don’t understand that career fairs aren’t held to throw a resume to as many people as possible. It’s about making a solid impression on a few people. For this most recent fair, my roommate was the best prepared student I’ve ever seen. He looked at the list of companies ahead of time, researched the ones that interested him, printed a resume tailored to each specific company, talked to only those companies, asked the questions that he knew would make him stand out, and left the career fair. He gave out 5 resumes that day, and by the following Monday, he had received 3 emails and 1 phone call asking for an interview. He had more success in the 20 minutes he spent there than most students have in three consecutive years.
This is one way to approach a career fair. Underclassmen can stand out in other surprisingly simple ways:
- Look professional. A freshly ironed shirt and combed hair can go a long way; your appearance is the first thing a prospective employer will notice.
- Do some prior research on the companies in order to be prepared. Understand what they do, what type of positions they’re looking to hire, and maybe look into what else current and relevant is happening in the company’s field. Come with questions in mind to ask that demonstrate your knowledge and preparedness.
- Have an updated resume ready to hand out. Make sure it looks professional, while giving it a little personal flair to stand out. Many schools offer counseling centers that would be more than happy to revise a student’s resume.
- Smile! Employers are more likely to remember someone who is charismatic than a student who is serious and nervous. Make a lasting impression with your personality.
If the ultimate goal is to land one job, you should focus only on the jobs that you think you have a legitimate shot at getting. Handing out a bunch of resumes quickly and half heartedly won’t make an employer want to pursue you for an interview. Preparation and focus will make more of an impact in a shorter amount of time than making an effort to give your resume to anyone you see. At future career fairs, be prepared, be professional, and remember: all it takes is one.
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