The Job Hunt: How to make a solid impression at a career fair

Theresa Mickelwait, assistant director of UK's Stuckert Career Center
Theresa Mickelwait, assistant director of UK's Stuckert Career Center

The buzz of excitement is in the air on college campuses as students go back to school. As soon as they return, the employers begin circling as well. You might not know it, but fall is a heavy recruiting season for some industries, and many are present at on-campus career fairs. That is the case with the University of Kentucky's Fall 2011 Employer Showcase on Sept. 27 and 28.

A one-on-one conversation with an employer's recruiter shows off your personality, enthusiasm and knowledge of the company and makes a much better impression than just sending a résumé. Attending a career fair gives you an opportunity to connect with important face time. So if you are planning to attend UK's fair or others, what do you need to do to make the best impression?

Research companies: "The ones who stand out have really done their research," says my colleague Lenroy Jones, a career services veteran of 15 years and the associate director at UK's James W. Stuckert Career Center. And on the flip side, he says, "There is nothing worse than someone walking up to an employer and saying, 'What does your company do?' " Employers are truly impressed when you hand them a packet that includes your résumé and a cover letter that has their name on it. It demonstrates you are a serious candidate when you take the time to dig deeper for information. You can usually obtain a list of attending companies through the host institution. In the case of UK's Fall 2011 Employer Showcase, go to

Brush up your image: First impressions really count, so dress professionally, have a firm handshake, make eye contact and speak clearly. When communicating with someone, use their name and be sure to thank them for their time. Such "niceties" really go a long way in leaving good impressions. Also, remember to be respectful of other people, and don't monopolize a company's time. Even though you might be very enthusiastic about that company, you might come across as rude and overly self-important.

Polish your introduction: Now that you have their attention, hit 'em with your best shot. One thing that will really set you apart is having a well-rehearsed introduction that highlights your knowledge and skills relevant to the positions they offer. You should be able to demonstrate some knowledge of their company and industry as well. You can gather a lot of information at their Web site by reading news releases; position postings; and their mission, values and goals. Information on many companies and industries also may be obtained at career research sites and

Strategize: Once you know who will be at the career fair, create a list of the top five companies you are interested in, and visit those first. Start from the bottom of your list so you will be warmed up when you greet your top target company. You also should plan to visit as many other companies as time allows to investigate other opportunities. Always collect a business card from whomever you speak with and make notes after each conversation because you won't recall the details of each on by the end of the day.

Follow up: After the showcase, follow up with a thank-you note to any companies that interested you. You also should use this opportunity to remind them of you and your conversation. This is where your conversation notes come in handy. Be sure to include your contact information again. A business card works well if you have one, so they can reach you easily.

Career fairs are a convenient way to reach many different employers in a single day or even a few hours. If you are in the market for a job or a career change, don't bypass the opportunity to make your skills and experience known with important recruiter face time.