Is Career Fair Networking Really So Hard? Four Tips for Students

Kathryn DouglasKathy Douglas, Associate Director Career Development Office, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/douglaskathy
Twitter: @fescdo
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Yale-FES-Career-Development-Office/134339426609741
Website: environment.yale.edu/cdo

If you are in a Google group, are a member of a family, or met someone at your college or university orientation who is still your friend, you already know how to network. We meet, form bonds, text, and call our friends to share good news. As a species, we are natural networkers—our survival depends on it.

Schmoozing at career fairs and events is what most people think of when defining networking—standing out in a crowd or making a lasting impression that will land you a job or internship. The reality for most mortals is, however, that although it is important to practice small talk and have good interpersonal skills, most of us do not exude extraordinarily magnetic personalities.

Working magic in a crowd, in fact, is not the most important part of networking.

Great networkers know what any career fair recruiter will tell you: At the end of the day, recruiters’ feet hurt, their voices are raw, and aside from a few exceptional interactions, they have spoken with so many individuals they don’t remember who they spoke with about what.

This is why the real art of job-search networking comes in after the actual fair—in the follow up.

When advising students on strategies for two major annual career fairs (one for 1,300+ students from eight universities; one for 250 students from two universities), I emphasize four things:

  1. Strategically select top employers to visit: Quick Internet research provides information to help determine which employers align best with your career goals. Arrive early and visit your top choices while you (and the recruiters) are fresh.
  2. Ask good questions: Advanced research will help you prepare smart questions. After a quick introduction, ask a question about recruiting level or specific practice areas to be sure you are not wasting your time or theirs—Are you hiring at the masters level? Are you interviewing for your renewables practice? If you already know what they are recruiting for, start there—“I’d like to learn more about the project areas for the policy internships.”
  3. After discussions, find a place to stop and take notes: Notes don’t have to be extensive. I use business cards and/or a small notebook to write the reason I want to follow up, contact information, and content of conversation.
  4. Follow up within a few days: Decide which leads are of interest and follow up with an e-mail that picks up where the discussion left off. If you have been directed to an online application, complete it, send the recruiter a thank you and let them know you applied. If you connected personally with a recruiter, but there is no immediate opportunity for you, send them a thank you note and a LinkedIn request. There is no need to follow up on every single contact. It’s okay to be strategic.

If you have taken good notes after a productive conversation, it is easy to follow up. And most often you are doing the recruiter a favor. The work you put in to making the recruiter’s job easier, whether it results in an immediate outcome for you or not, is a positive and generous act.

And you never know where follow-up will lead. Through courteous follow up and strategic networking, job seekers get interviews, discover the hidden job market, and learn the inside scoop on organizations.

NACE members can pick up a free student-directed copy of this blog for use online or in publications.

3 thoughts on “Is Career Fair Networking Really So Hard? Four Tips for Students

  1. I’m not a recruiter, but certainly can add to what’s listed here. Always show up dressed like a professional (no flip-flops, shorts, t-shirts) because this opp should be viewed as a “mini interview”. Take their business cards, make notes on the back of those so you won’t forget who you spoke to and about what. Take any info provided about the business, again, make notes as you ask questions. Go prepared with a resume in an envelope. Smile, shake hands, say thank you after the conversation has ended. Don’t grad a handful out of their candy bowl!

  2. Very good article, Kathy. As a producer of hundreds of career fairs over the past eighteen years, I have worked with all types of candidates. Career fairs are a mutual discovery process between employers and candidates.Those who dress sharp, come prepared, and treat the event as a mini-interview have a real advantage over those who fail in these areas.

  3. Pingback: How To Work A Career Fair Cheat Sheet | The NACE Blog

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