Dear New Shrink,

I am about to graduate from college and am searching for my first job. My school is hosting a career fair that I am interested in attending, however, I have never been to an event like this before. I don’t know what to talk about or what to do. Please let me know how I can prepare and put my best foot forward.

Signed,

Career Fair Newbie

Dear Newbie,

Attending an organized career fair can be a great way to connect with employers who are looking to hire while also showcasing yourself as a prospective candidate. However, making the most of this event will require that you prepare ahead of time and make a game plan for success.

Start off by reviewing the career fair website and the list of attending companies. Knowing who will be present will help you to determine who you want to meet so you can plan your approach. First impressions go a long way so you want to be sure that you are well informed and prepared to make the best impression possible.

Go beyond your basic assumptions. Even if you recognize the name of the company it is important for you to take time to research each organization and find out what types of openings they have. For instance, an aerospace company may be hiring finance, marketing, and human resource professionals, not just engineers. To gather this information start by going to the corporate website. Review details about the company structure and departments, locations, new initiatives, and current job openings. You may find it useful to compile a spreadsheet to store the information you gather as a quick resource. This also presents an opportunity for you to begin drafting questions that you would like to ask the employer. A career fair presents the perfect opportunity for you to learn about the company culture, unique programs, and others details that are important in your career planning.

This is also your opportunity to be more than just a name on a piece of paper. Spend time thinking about your pitch. How will you introduce yourself to a perspective employer? To prepare, develop a 30-second pitch highlighting your background and interest in the company. Introducing yourself in a positive and confident way will take preparation and practice. Craft a message that features your accomplishments and is delivered effortlessly; you want to avoid sounding like a recording. A great pitch will introduce you by name, major, focus and what you’re looking for. For instance you might state, “I am a senior marketing major with a focus in business. For the past two semesters I have served as a social media intern at a local entertainment company where I have helped increase their social media presence by 30 percent. I would like to find a full time opportunity where I can apply my social media and marketing experience in a creative and fast-paced work environment.” You can take this one step further by individualizing this pitch with the information that you gathered when researching the company.

Make sure your resume is in tip-top shape. While many employers will still require that you apply formally through their website, having your resume ready will show that you are serious about securing a new opportunity. Make sure that you tailor your resume to the position and company you are interested in working for. If an employer is unable to accept a hard copy of your resume, do not take it personally. Many companies have specific protocols in place to handle applications. However, make sure that you take the time to revise your cover letter and application to discuss your conversation with their recruiter at the career fair. Many times the person who makes a hiring or interview decision for a particular position is different from the person who attends college career fairs.

Finally, the way you dress, act, and talk will also have an impact on the employers impression of you. If you have a suit, wear it. If not, dress pants or skirt with a dress shirt or cardigan will do. It is also important that you mind your manners. Practice your firm handshake, proper eye contact, and clear speech. Bring copies of your resume in a nice professional portfolio. This will help you to appear polished and prepared and also give you a place to record notes and the names of the professionals you meet. Most important, be yourself and don’t forget to smile. A smile will help calm your nerves and will show the employer that you are the friendly addition they need on their team.

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional college and career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell Universities. Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!