PLEASE DON’T Make These 5 Mistakes At Your Engineering Career Fair

ECL Readers: This post is directed primarily to engineering college students, but is also applicable to full-time engineers who are using career fairs in their job search.

In somewhat similar fashion to the “Swallows of Capistrano” that return to California each March, September is a time when hundreds of corporate recruiters attend college career fairs across the country in their search for top engineering talent.

Hand Stop Sign picture

CC image courtesy of James Emery on Flickr

For many companies, the fall career fair is their most significant effort towards identifying and interviewing engineering students for full-time and intern positions set to become available in the new year. 

As a result, their recruiters know that every meeting, every conversation, every interaction with a student is an important one.

They know they need to be “always on” when representing their employer at the career booths and during interviews they may hold following the fair.

Career Fairs Can Be Life-changing

Unfortunately, not all of the students know what the recruiters know. Many don’t realize how impactful the fair could be to their future, and therefore, the importance of every career fair conversation. 

Seriously, making a positive impression at a career fair could lead to a campus interview, which could lead to an internship, which could lead to a full-time position, and possibly a life-long career. 

This happened to me in a very similar way. My summer engineering internship evolved into a 25-year career with John Deere. 

Preparation Is Key

With so much at stake, you would think that every career fair participant would take the event very, very seriously, and prepare accordingly. And while many do a great job of getting ready, in my experience there is always a subset who simply “don’t get it”.

During my tenure in Corporate Staffing at John Deere, I was always a bit saddened (and disappointed) to meet and talk with students who seemed to have potential, but who hadn’t prepared properly. This was obvious because they were clearly uncomfortable during our brief career fair conversations.

In an effort to help ECL readers who may be attending career fairs in the future, I want to share a short, but honest, list of some career fair pet peeves of mine.

The following are five requests that I challenge you to commit to before approaching any company representatives at a career fair. I call these my:

5 PLEASE DON’Ts For Career Fair Participants

  1. PLEASE DON’T…Extend Me A Wimpy Handshake – Your handshake and #2 below (eye contact) set the stage for our entire conversation.

    Help us start our short time together with a firm (but not bone-crunching) and confident handshake. And please do this no matter what your gender is.

  2. PLEASE DON’T…Avoid Eye Contact With Me – For both of us to be successful during our short meeting, we need to connect on a human level. Beyond the “touch” we make with a handshake, it’s our eyes that will heavily impact how well we connect.

    I want to sense interest from you in what I’m sharing about myself, my company and in what we’re looking for in our new hires. Good eye contact will help ensure that I get this feeling.

  3. PLEASE DON’T…Mumble – Career fairs are loud. There will be conversations going on right next to us.

    By speaking succinctly and loudly enough, you’ll tend to exude an air of confidence. Plus, I’ll have a much better chance of hearing and understanding what you’re telling me about yourself.

  4. PLEASE DON’T…Ramble – Your window of opportunity to make your points will be very small. There will probably be other students waiting to talk with me, so use your time wisely and be careful not to overstay your welcome.

    Your questions, your answers and your overall messaging all need to be ready ahead of time. This is where planning and practice is especially important.

  5. PLEASE DON’T…Be Forgettable – You need to stand out from the crowd in a way that’s memorable. I truly want this to happen for you.

    Without knowing you or seeing your resume it’s difficult for me to suggest a specific example. Just remember that every recruiter is sizing you up on the spot as to whether you’ll mesh well with his/her company’s culture and if you’ll be able to add value.

    One suggestion I will leave you with is to remember that the #1 reason you’re at the fair should be to get an interview. This should be your end game. So like any top notch salesperson would do, you must “ask for the sale”.

    In your case, you must ask for an interview. Do this in person, but also email a professional thank-you ASAP (the same day for sure). Both of these actions will help make you memorable.

Of course, there are many, many other Career Fair Do’s and Don’ts. Both your college career center and Google can help you find them (my alma mater offers help here). Then it will be up to you to practice, practice, and practice some more. 

Question: What preparation steps will you commit to before your next career fair? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Readers: Chapter 7 from my 64-page, how-to STRAIGHT TALK GUIDE titled, CONDUCTING INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS, covers the topic of preparation. Virtually all of the points covered are applicable to preparing for a career fair. You can watch a 3 1/2-minute video of the chapter here..