Dear Highlander: Career Fair Advice

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Dear Highlander,

The career fair is coming up and I think that I’m finally ready to try to get an internship for this summer. There’s only one problem… I don’t have much experience with interacting with employers at all. I’ve never had an interview before and I don’t know how I should prepare to have so many of them in one day. Can you give some advice as to how a sophomore like me can up my chances of landing an internship this summer?

– Confused Computer Science Major

Dear Confused Computer Science Major,

With the career fair rolling up so soon, there isn’t much time to mess around. Getting an internship during your sophomore year is impressive, so follow these simple rules with the little time that you have if you want to have a shot at that summer internship.

Step 1: Resume up. Nothing is worse than handing out resumes that look like they’d been created on 15 minutes prior to the event. At least search for some fancy resume templates, and start replacing the existing info with your own. Even better, have a CoAD student help you out; they’re generally good with design. Also, you’re a big kid now. It’s time for you to get rid of your high school activities. Instead, put that space to good use and load your resume up with things like interesting college courses that you’ve taken, clubs that you’re actively involved in, research experience, and/or leadership roles. Don’t forget to add your GPA, and include your non-major cohorts (like Honors or EOP) if you’re in one.

Step 2: Dress up. Here’s where you can add your own personal flair. In my opinion, nothing is more boring and forgettable than walking around in the same outfit as all the other hopeful interns on this campus. Black suit, white shirt, black tie? Is this the world’s most career-oriented funeral? Wearing a tie with more than one color does not constitute individuality. Give something different a try! For guys, forget the suit, go for khakis and a nice blazer, if you have one. You could even ditch the jacket altogether and just wear a button-up shirt and tie. Make sure your shoes match your outfit, too. If you’re a girl, follow the same rule – stop wearing all black. Throw some color in there, but keep it classy. Pastel tones work well, as do many bold solid colors. Prints are out. Keep the heels close-toed, and under 5 inches.

Step 3: Toughen up. You want to come across as cool, calm, and most importantly, confident. Check out the list of all the companies that are attending, and make a list of which ones you want to visit. Don’t exclude companies that you think may be out of your league. There is literally nothing to lose from approaching them. After all, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Try to research your list in depth, so you know exactly what to talk about. You’ll impress company reps if you’re familiar with specific projects, programs, or initiatives that are specific to that company. Make sure that you bring several copies of your resume, and business cards, if you have them. You can tailor your resume for individual companies or positions as you see fit.

Step 4: Bless up. Don’t stand in line and act bored and impatient, do a little networking on your own while you’re waiting. When you do meet a company representative, give a firm (but not too firm) handshake, longer than a quick grasp but no more than three or four seconds. Smile, make eye contact, and make sure you introduce yourself promptly. Try to use the representative’s name a few times throughout the interview, it makes you sound more personable. Don’t downplay your accomplishments, but be careful not to overpromise. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, so highlight your strengths as much as possible.

Step 5: Follow up. After the career fair, don’t forget to send an email to your interviewers thanking them for their time. This will show them that you appreciated meeting them, and look forward to hearing back about your interview. Some companies may tell you upfront that they are not looking for someone with your qualifications at this time. Be sure to ask them what to improve on, or what sort of experience you should look for, so that when you apply next year, you’ll be just the candidate that they are looking for. Some other companies have a policy of not giving out the email addresses of the representatives at the career fair. In those cases, it is often possible to find an email address online for a specific employee if you remember his or her name, so make sure to write them all down.

That’s it, you’re all set! Good luck out there, put your best foot forward, and don’t worry so much. You’re just a sophomore, you have a few more shots at the Career Fair before you graduate, so use this one as a learning experience. Still, take it seriously, because you never know, you might get a call back, and you don’t want to be the kid who decided to rap his resume, right?

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