The final round of on-campus recruiting has begun with spring career fairs. As the economy strengthens, more employers are heading to campus to uncover interns and entry-level talent for their companies.
As a college student, how you handle the on-campus recruiting process can make the difference between landing a content-rich summer internship or babysitting for the neighbor's kid for yet another summer. Make an impact with these strategies:
1. Review who is coming to campus. Your career center and/or your specific academic college knows who is attending the fairs in advance. If the list of employers is not posted online, you can contact the staff and ask who is attending or who has attended in previous years.
Once you know the list, review every company. Most students only consider the companies with major brand names -- but with common names comes intense competition. Researching all your options means you may uncover a hidden gem of an employer while avoiding some competition. Create a list of at least five employers that intrigue you.
2. Prepare to impress in person. Now that you have done the research, list any open internship or entry-level positions you find for each employer on the company website and LinkedIn page. Select an outfit that will command respect and show that you thought about making a great first impression. Print out at least 10 error-free copies of your résumé, and put them in a portfolio or folder with pockets.
Try to arrange your schedule so you can arrive early and stay late. Being available to mingle when the room isn't packed is an excellent way to get more time with the on-campus recruiter.
3. Work your plan. At the event, visit the targeted employers on your list first. Use the time with them to ask thought-provoking questions -- or at least more in-depth stuff than what you already read online during your research. Be prepared to give a couple sentences about yourself, your field of study and your interests. Having a "personal commercial" ready to go means you will highlight the key points of your background without all the nervousness.
Get at least one contact name and email address for each employer that impressed you. Make good eye contact, give a firm handshake, take notes, pick up materials and leave behind your résumé. Ask about hiring deadlines, the recruiting process and various locations or departments that may have openings.
4. Follow up. This is where you can make the biggest impact. The majority of career fair attendees never follow up after the event -- don't be one of those job seekers!
First, send an email thanking the recruiter for attending your school's event and expressing your interest in the company. Include a PDF version of your résumé with your email. Also, if you can reference one specific thing you learned or appreciated about your conversation, include that, too.
Next, send a LinkedIn invite to each contact you met. Remember, these employees come to campus to make connections with college students, so they will be open to your LinkedIn connection.
Finally, make sure you follow through with any recommendations or next steps the potential employer mentioned. For example, if someone encouraged you to attend their information session next Tuesday, attend. If they asked that you send an email to the recruiter in a different department, send the email, include who referred you and cc the original contact, so that she sees you followed through.
5. Keep in touch. For many companies, hiring is a very long process that involves reviewing hundreds of applicants, getting feedback from multiple interviewers and scheduling two to three meetings per candidate -- all while still trying to get other work completed.
Great potential hires often get lost in the process, and/or the hiring gets delayed. Sending an email or note via LinkedIn several weeks after the job fair to update the recruiter on your status is a great way to keep communication open. This should never be accusatory. Don't say anything like, "I never heard from you, so I thought I would try again," or "The person you referred me to never contacted me." The note should be positive, light in tone and remind the recipient that you continue to be interested in opportunities, should one match your background.
In summary, don't take the on-campus career fair lightly. Those students who make a professional first impression, seem engaged in person and follow up afterward always do the best during this process. Take advantage of this key event to explore new companies, learn about lesser known career paths and make business connections. The networking skills you demonstrate during the recruiting process are critical for success in business, and your future employer is watching.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.