Many international students may feel intimidated or overwhelmed by the idea of attending a career fair.
They may not know what to expect, who to talk to, or how to stand out among the many other students and candidates.
Additionally, they may feel nervous about navigating the job search process as an international student, including the challenges they may face related to visas and sponsorship.
These uncertainties and challenges can lead to a lack of confidence and a reluctance to attend career fairs, even though they can be excellent opportunities to make connections, learn about potential employers, and gain exposure to a variety of job opportunities.
Maximize Your Career Fair Success: Prepare for the Event with a Game Plan
Before going to a career fair, it is important to prepare yourself before the event so you can maximize the time you spend at the fair.
Below are some tips about coming up with a game plan on which companies you’re interested in talking to, how you will introduce yourself to them, and how you can make a good and lasting first impression.
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Research Attending Employers
As you prepare for your next career fair, be proactive by researching the companies that will be in attendance.
Most colleges and universities will release a list of employers and open positions beforehand, so take advantage of this information. Start by looking up the names of the companies and getting an understanding of what each one is all about. From there, you can narrow down your list of top companies to talk to and do further research to gain a deeper understanding of their operations. This targeted research will help you look and feel prepared when you meet the companies at the fair.
It is important to note that while researching companies that have sponsored in the past can be helpful, there is no guarantee that they will sponsor positions this year. Similarly, even if a company has never sponsored before, if you are a compelling job candidate and the company leader likes you, there may be exceptions.
Instead of focusing on sponsorship, I encourage international students to focus on selling their skills and experiences. Building relationships with the right people is key to getting your foot in the door, and building relationships does not require sponsorship. Don’t limit your opportunities by only targeting companies that have sponsored in the past.
Aside from researching companies ahead of time, it’s also important to prepare yourself physically for a career fair.
Bring a notebook and pen to take down information, answers to questions, and the names of the people and companies you’ll be talking to. Consider taking pictures of business cards you receive to keep track of the contact information.
Additionally, bring your own business cards to exchange with new contacts after having a conversation with them.
Pro tips! bring your portfolio to companies that have roles that interest you and projects you’d like to pitch.
Dress professionally in appropriate business formal attire to make a lasting impression. To prepare for conversation, think about your experiences and be ready to introduce yourself and ask good questions.
Remember, job experience from any country, including your own, is valuable and unique.
Unlock Insights into American Work Culture
Attending a career fair as an international student is not only an opportunity to network and learn about job opportunities, but it’s also a chance to gain exposure to American work culture.
By talking to representatives from different companies and industries, you can learn about the expectations and norms in the American job market, which can be valuable information for your future job search. Observing how other students and candidates interact with employers can also give you insights into effective communication and networking strategies. By taking advantage of these opportunities, you can gain a better understanding of American work culture and position yourself for success in your future career.
When to Arrive at the Career Fairs & How to Get the Most out of Career Fairs
Attending a career fair is similar to going to a social gathering. By arriving early, you have the advantage of fewer crowds and the opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with employers. Here are three crucial steps to help you make the most out of your career fair experience.
Step 1: Confident Introduction
Conducting research on the companies attending the career fair will help you identify which ones you want to target. When you arrive, walk in confidently and approach a representative at their booth. Offer a friendly smile, greet them by their name (which you can do by noting their name tag), and introduce yourself (your name, followed by your major).
For example, “Hi Mary, how are you today? Thank you for visiting our university. My name’s Bill Xu, and I’m a sophomore pursuing a Master’s in Business Analytics.
Smile, be pleasant, and let your personality shine.
Step 2: Engaging Conversations
Once you’ve introduced yourself, use your knowledge of the company to ask questions and learn from the person you’re speaking with. Career fairs are also a great opportunity to meet potential mentors in your field. During the conversation, maintain eye contact to show your focus and interest. Be yourself, avoid stiffness, and let your authenticity shine through.
Step 3: Making a Lasting Impression
End your conversation by expressing gratitude, hoping to stay in touch, and asking if there’s anything you can do to help. This is a great way to close the conversation and you might be surprised by how much you can assist others.
How to Ace Your Interviews at Career Fairs
There are two types of interviews that you may encounter at a career fair: formal and informal. It is crucial to prepare yourself for both types of interviews as the business professionals at the career fair may choose to interview you on the spot.
Informal interviews are less structured and more relaxed. To prepare, think about your career goals and come up with a few interesting and relevant stories to share with the interviewer. On the other hand, formal interviews may be arranged in advance by your school, where students can apply to interview for specific job openings. If you are given the opportunity to participate in a formal interview, it is important to thoroughly prepare as the outcome of this interview could potentially impact future job opportunities. Utilize the S-P-A-R approach when answering interview questions, whether they are behavioral or technical in nature.
How do I keep Maintain my New Connections After a Career Fair?
“How can I maintain a relationship after the first meeting?” is a common question I receive from international students. To stand out and build connections, it’s important to approach things differently from others.
While many students hand out multiple copies of their resume to all the companies at career fairs, this can lead to their resumes getting lost among others. Instead, aim to make meaningful connections and exchange LinkedIn connections and business cards with new contacts. If the person is interested in your qualifications, they will reach out to you for your resume and any further information.
Sending a thank you note within 24 hours of the career fair is a great way to keep communication going with your new contacts. If you have developed a good rapport and they are located nearby, you can also consider asking for a coffee meeting to get to know each other better. Americans are generally open to networking and meeting young, ambitious individuals, as long as you follow proper etiquette.
To keep your connections meaningful, don’t just reach out to new contacts when you need something from them. Invest time in your relationships and volunteer to help with things they need. Continuously seek to learn from them and their experiences, and maintain a balance of giving and receiving in your relationships.
Ensure Your Eligibility to Work in the US: CPT/ OPT
For international students, familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations surrounding your Curricular Practical Training (CPT) and Optional Practical Training (OPT).
If you’re offered an internship, it’s usually easy to obtain CPT if the internship is a part of your degree program. However, if it’s not, reach out to your academic advisor and the International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) office as soon as possible to determine the steps needed to secure CPT for the internship.
To apply for CPT, follow these steps:
- Obtain a job offer letter
- Submit the offer letter, CPT application form, and any required attachments to ISSS at least a week before your intended start date
- Collect your updated I-20 with CPT authorization before starting your internship.
Note: Be mindful of the total hours that you work on your CPT within 12 month-period to ensure it does not impact your eligibility for OPT.
Wishing you the best of luck at your next career fair!
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