Career Fairs 101
The Salesperson’s Mindset
“I want to take a second to talk about the mindset of the pitch. All of the companies in attendance are looking to make an investment. You are both the salesperson and the product, but at career fairs, you have companies receiving hundreds of proposals and all the products are (at least at the undergraduate level) more or less the same. At this scale, the key differentiating quality is your communication skills. Summed up in a few words: keep it relevant, and keep it concise.
Relevance is extremely important: every single sentence should relate back to the company’s immediate needs. It’s okay not to have a perfectly-aligned resume for an internship; most student projects/research groups involve soft skills like cross-disciplinary work, client management, multi-tasking, etc. All of these are marketable and relevant – you just have to sell it!
Along the same lines, concision is absolutely critical. Your pitch is a highlight reel, not a comprehensive presentation. It’s not essential to stick to 30 seconds – feel free to go a little over, but the longer you talk, the longer you run the risk of losing the recruiter. If the recruiter starts looking bored or trying to interrupt, that’s your signal to cut it short.
Too many students come in a superficial view of the company’s goals, products, and business areas. This is my tried-and-true method of doing my research prior to the fair:
Narrow the list of companies down to 5-8 based on your preferred interest and the company’s hiring availability. I would recommend doing this a couple of days before the fair because often companies will post their internship listings just prior to the fair. (One career fair, I did my research the morning of the fair, and noticed that L-3 had posted an internship requisition that very morning, which I noted. Later that afternoon, when I spoke with the L-3 rep, I mentioned I was interested in that position. Would you believe that she was the one who had posted it the day before? That turned out to be my first interview!)
From those 5-8 companies, jot down on a notepad the following for each company: biggest company events in the last 6 months, core product lines (typically 3-4 most relevant to you and 1-2 products per platform) and jobs you are interested in. This information is critical as it will be what you to refer to in your post-pitch chat.
Apply for at least one of those jobs per company! This is critical – recruiters love to hear that you’ve already applied. It shows initiative, and seeing as many companies hold interviews take place just a few days after, it leaves a good impression.
Making the Most of Those Two Minutes with the Recruiter
So, you’ve made it to your career fair, and you’re waiting in a long line to get your chance to talk to Google or Lockheed Martin. Now I’ll walk you through an example of a pitch I’ve given and why (I think) it’s worked. This was for a Systems Engineering position that Boeing posted a while back that wanted candidates with MATLAB competency, as well as some experience working in integration and testing of aerospace systems.
Hi, my name is John Doe, I’m a fourth-year aerospace engineering student, and I would love to talk to you about your Systems Engineering position.
Don’t forget your fundamentals: open with a strong handshake, a smile, good posture, and a quick 5-second introduction about who you are and what you’re interested in.
In terms of my relevant background, at my internship at [Aerospace Company], my role spanned test, evaluation, and integration of MEMS devices. I was responsible for setting up and executing high-temperature tests on gyroscopes, as well as examining the test data and writing brief reports for our client.
I also worked as the trajectory engineer on my rocketry capstone project where I focused on developing a trajectory analysis algorithm. The algorithm was used to generate velocity and altitude plots of our rocket based on unique flight conditions: initial angle-of-attack, drag coefficients, payload, and launch mass, etc.
This is the meat of your pitch. This is where you discuss how their current needs align with your skill set. Even if your entire resume is a good fit, stick with 2, 3 items tops and focus on your highlights and responsibilities. Don’t worry if you can’t cover every little detail - if they’re interested in other items or would like follow-up on a specific resume item, the recruiter will ask you.
In my experience, recruiters place importance on internships, then hands-on projects, then research, and finally leadership experience. As an underclassman, you might be relying more on hands-on projects and leadership experience, which is fine – just sell it!
I think the combination of my internship experience and the work on my spacecraft design project make me a strong candidate for your position.
This closing line slightly alludes to what I mentioned earlier about aligning yourself to their needs.
Be cognizant of who you are talking to. If you are talking to a chief engineer or a project manager, feel free to dive into a little more technical detail during your pitch but keep it brief. But if you’re talking to an HR rep, keep the technical details at a high-level because you don’t want to lose them with technical details. Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to add a little personality! These recruiters listen to hundreds of pitches a day so play your personality up. If you are a jokester, make a couple of jokes. If you’re passionate about a certain project, let that passion show.
You might be wondering why you needed to do all that research prior to the fair if your pitch covers only your background and a job position. You need the company information for the follow-up questions, where the recruiter will likely dig past the rehearsed pitch. It's very common to be asked "What do you know about our company?" as one of the first follow-up questions to the pitch, and this is where most students falter, as they have scant understanding of what the company does. This is really where you can shine as a candidate and move yourself into interview consideration, if you can align the company’s direction and competencies with your resume.
Congratulations! You made it through the most difficult part of the career fair process, and your work is almost done.
If a recruiter tells you to apply online, that does not mean your effort is wasted! Quite the contrary – many companies, especially in the aerospace industry, require candidates to submit an application online before they can be considered for any position. To be clear: You cannot be considered for an internship without having submitted an online application! For example, I have been told after a pitch to the LinQuest Corporation to apply online, and not 24 hours after my online application did I get an email from the company requesting a phone interview. Make that online application your #1 priority!
If you managed to procure any business cards, follow up with the recruiter especially if you feel good about your pitch. As with any professional correspondence, keep the email brief and to the point!
Career fairs are not easy. You will sound awkward, you will slip, you might mispronounce the company name, or even accidentally refer to them by another company name (likely why I got nowhere with AeroVironment). What you have just read ahead may not be your style; maybe you prefer applying online. However, in my opinion, career fairs are the most efficient use of your time and a much faster way to get your resume to the decision-makers. I hope that you found this article helpful, and if you have any questions feel free to reach out! I wish you all the best of luck on your professional ventures!”