Most international students don’t know how to work a career fair. Do you?
Every school’s career services office works hard to put together a strong career fair. Depending on the economy, it can be a really hard to fill a room with companies who are hiring. But it’s always hard to fill a room with companies who are hiring international students. The day of the fair, you can always identify the few companies who are officially open to sponsoring visas by the long line of hopeful international students queuing up for a chance to hand in their resumes.
Students familiar with my book, and my belief that international students shouldn’t waste time trying to connect with HR, often ask me what they should try to do at a career fair – particularly if most company reps are from HR. I’ve worked many career fairs on the corporate side, and here’s what I would do as an international student. How to work a career fair:
1. Don’t get in line with the rest of the international students. You won’t have a chance to make an impression, and you won’t be remembered.
2. Find someone with no students at his booth. This guy will be happy to talk to anyone! No one likes to stand alone at a party, and that’s how company reps feel when there’s no one visiting their booth. Don’t be fooled by people ‘working’ on their iPhones or laptops. They are just trying to look busy. It’s a prime opportunity for you to have a real conversation, and perhaps build a relationship. Don’t be discouraged if the rep is from a company you’ve never heard of or very small. Small companies often don’t have policies in place against visa sponsorship.
3. Find out from your career services office if there are any alumni planning to attend the event as company reps; or better yet, any former international students coming. Connect with these people first. See if you can set up some informational interview with people who are doing what you’d like to be doing.
4. If there’s a long line at a firm that interests you, you’ll need to do something unusual to be remembered. One time I was working a career fair for Monster.com and we had a constant line of 15 people for about 6 hours. We just couldn’t get away from the booth for a break. One student came by and dropped off a bottle of water, and made a comment about how busy we must be. It made an impression! That guy knew how to work a career fair. Those are the people who get remembered.
5. Show up early. At the end of the day, company reps are tired of talking to people (and some of them actually leave early!). There’s value to engaging at the beginning and becoming the standard that the company rep compares everyone else to.
So, that’s how to work a career fair. Make the event more than just a time to pass around your resume. Use it as an opportunity to make some connections and set up some informational interviews. Good luck!