The changing leaves brings in a new phase in recruitment, and that’s career fair season, and organizing internship opportunities for the coming spring. It may seem early, but if you need to secure an internship, summer job, or your make your first post-graduate career choice – the time is now. Most campuses are hosting career fairs in September-November each year, typically there is a different fair for each specific college. You should absolutely attend – even if you are returning to the farm this summer, it’s never too early to familiarize yourself with agricultural companies in your area. The companies have prepared, come early to set up their booths – and cannot wait to talk to excited and interested students – that’s why they are there! You have some preparations to make too – let’s take a look at how you can be the most impactful at the fair and how to approach employers properly.
Dress – The problem is that you’re usually going to go to their fair between classes. You probably don’t want to sit in class in polyester dress pants before darting off to the fair; but at least try to look professional. You don’t have to wear a suit, although some do. Even dark wash jeans with a nice top, or a blazer would set you apart from some of the other attendees. The number of students that we see at career fairs each year in Ugg boots, leggings, overly distressed, jeans, or work boots is sometimes overwhelming. It reflects badly on you and on your educational institution.
Approach – Do some research! Exhibitor lists are often published ahead of time. Pick 5 companies that may be of interest to you based on your interests and research where they operate, what they are hiring for, and what their company does. Use your knowledge to open the conversation – you can practice your approach in front of the mirror if you’re nervous. For example:
• I see you have opportunities in Chatham, but I need to stay close to my farm in Guelph this summer for chores – do you have any opportunities in the Guelph area?
• I’m looking to gain experience in marketing/communications – I noticed that you’re seeking an intern for that – can you tell me a bit about your internship program?
• I graduate in April with Ag Business, and am looking to learn more about the flow of commodities in Alberta, do you offer anything along those lines?
• I’d like to intern at a chemical company this summer, there are 3 other companies offering similar internships – what makes your program different?
We see several each year stroll up to the booth and start with “What do you got for me?” Not a good first impression for a future employer.
Prepare a general resume, and if the qualifications are different, have one tailored to your top 1-2 job prospects. Having a resume with you is great, but having one tailored to one of their specific opportunities will be very impressive!
Swag – Yes, the swag is a fun part of the day – the employers bring it for students like yourselves. At the very least show interest in the company and have a bit of a conversation before asking if you can take some of their swag.
Confidence – It’s always uncomfortable to put yourself out there and try to sell yourself in person, but that’s what these events are for. The exhibiting companies are thrilled to see and talk to students, and judge the success for the day by the number of resumes and good conversations they have had. They work hard on their programs and employee engagement. It’s also VERY competitive – with 4 job opening for every graduate – you are a commodity yourself. You have skills, experience, education and value to bring to the employers, approach companies with that in the back of your mind.
Your internship experiences, summer work, and first post-graduation job set the tone for your career. This is often one of the first times trying to sell yourself in person. It’s never easy, practice your opening line a few times and once the conversation has started it should be easy from there. Don’t rush your time talking to the exhibitors, try to learn something from each one by asking strategic questions. You will be more memorable after having an impactful conversation.
To find a career fair in your area check our event list. Good luck!