If you are an international student, you probably plan to stay on in the host country after graduation and start a career. But, in the US, particularly, because of the increasingly restrictive work-visa rules, employers might be hesitant to hire you. They fear your work-authorization application will be rejected or they may have to spend higher amounts on your work visa.
These concerns are justified. Recruiting companies are also wary that you might not fit in with the local corporate culture.
Usually, firms only have your CV to go by to gauge your suitability as a candidate. This is where career fairs help. Companies can meet and speak to you. They may not readily find a solution to visa problems, but they can at least convince themselves of your suitability.
However, international students often don’t show much confidence in career fairs because they know that companies may not hire them because of the visa problems. But, at fairs, there may be corporates willing to sponsor candidates or offer internships. There are also other ways by which candidates can make fairs work for them.
How to make career fairs work for you
First, as an international student, you will be able to meet other international students at fairs and keep in touch with them to know how they are faring with their job search.
Second, while everyone is queuing in front of the stalls of top companies, you can go to the stalls of lesser-known companies, which may give you a closer look. You can get tips from them about what makes them interview an international candidate for a position, what makes them recruit an international student, and what turns them off.
Third, you can offer your services in an area that a company is focusing on, such as expanding in your home country or another emerging market. You will be a more attractive candidate to it than a hotshot MBA looking for a full-time job or sponsorship. Of course, you should go to the stall of every company that offers to sponsor.
Fourth, when you approach companies with a policy against sponsoring, ask if they make exceptions to exceptional candidates. They may say no, but it could be worth a shot. Before attending a career fair, international students should know their visa status and find out which jobs they are eligible for.
Fifth, stress your global mobility. Say you are willing to work in Asia or Africa. You may later be given a chance to work in the US or UK, if that’s your goal.
Using university career fairs to improve your candidature
Interacting with representatives of employers is not every student’s cup of tea. Many find themselves tongue-tied from a fear that they may fail to impress employers or from a feeling of anxiety. Career fairs are an ideal practice ground to improve your interactions.
If you are the anxious or nervous type, you may want to prepare an introduction of your educational/professional background and interests. If you are targeting a particular company, it may be a good idea to try out your preparation level at another company’s stall first.
Practice a 60-second “elevator pitch,” or a “commercial” that advertises yourself to an employer. Speak clearly and concisely, as you won’t have much time. Anticipate questions and be ready with answers. Focus on your skills and experience and not on your visa status.
At large fairs, plan to meet about ten companies, five of them your priority companies. But you must first practice your personal pitch at the five non-priority companies on your list. Leave out companies that say they hire only citizens or permanent residents.
At career fairs, you get to meet many potential employers, which helps you overcome apprehensions. You can hope to meet company representatives at various levels, from senior management and HR personnel to fresh recruits.
Students, particularly those from overseas, can also learn the local etiquette and more about various cultures. Career fairs, even when they do not give immediate positive results, can be a good practice ground for students.
A company’s stall at a fair provides an opportunity to students to understand job and career opportunities available with the organization. You cannot find out about every position from company websites, and additional information may be available at the stalls. Students can also understand a company’s culture by meeting its representatives, again, something that may not be clear on websites.
Additionally, international students could research and find out whether the company you are speaking to has branch offices in your home country.
Don’t be shy to ask questions. Do your research about the position you are aiming for and ask questions about the role and responsibilities, promotions and other prospects. But never yield to the temptation to show off by asking complex questions. Read MBA Fair Tips: Questions to avoid at information sessions
Out in the open meeting people, employers and recruiters are not the same severe people you see at office desks. They mingle and are more open to talking freely to visitors. Students can use this opportunity to connect with them.
International students may even get to form networks with recruiters familiar with their native lands and find out how they can snag jobs in the host country. All this may not be possible to achieve online.
Do you have a sneaking feeling that there’s something wrong with your resume but can’t put a finger on it. You may be too diffident to ask your busy professor to go through it. At fairs, you can participate in resume, interview skills, and etiquette seminars and workshops. You may even be able to learn how to refine your job searches online. Some fairs may require you to register for these events.
Find out whether companies at the fair are offering internships. If you are lucky, you may be able to bag a role that will give you a chance to familiarize yourself with an organization and its work culture. You may even be able to decide on a career.
If you speak well and come across as a potential candidate, recruiters may offer to hold interviews at the fairs themselves. This is a quick approach compared to the usual procedure of applying for a position and waiting to hear good news.
Companies don’t plan to hire hundreds of students at job fairs. But they surely are there to spot potential candidates. You should catch their eye in the limited time available. Go prepared and try to make a great impression.
The best foot forward
Estimate how much time the job fair will take you. Do an online research about the companies you want to explore. Learn about their products/services. Scan newspapers/portals for any recent news about the companies.
Choose business attire. Keep in mind that you will be judged quickly at a fair, so good grooming is important. Wear comfortable shoes.
Try not to carry a heavy backpack. Prefer a portfolio or briefcase.
At the fair
Arrive in the first hour when the crowd is usually sparse. If you have company preferences, get a floor plan and chalk out a route through the fair.
Turn your cellphone off to avoid interruptions.
Approach each stall by yourself and not with your friend or group. This would indicate confidence. But if you are an incurable introvert, go with a friend who is by nature sociable.
Smile, make eye contact, and give a firm handshake.
Be ready with your questions about the recruitment process and the skills sought.
Anticipate questions. Be ready with answers. But don’t take too much of the recruiter’s time.
Carry copies of your CV. Be sure to collect recruiters’ business cards. Make short notes of any positive feedback.
Respect employers’ materials such as brochures on offer to students. Take just one.
After the fair, get in touch with the company representatives you spoke to.
Send thank-you notes, referring to the fair date and venue.
If you make notes, you can even refer to your conversation. Include a copy of your resume.
Career fair vs job fair
Keep in mind that the terms “career fair” and “job fair” are not always interchangeable. Some universities conduct career fairs in which companies participate not because they have immediate job openings but because they want to promote their brands on campus. Companies use fairs at international universities to provide information about careers and their recruitment processes.
On the other hand, job fairs are attended by recruiters who are looking to fill positions immediately. A recruitment organization or a company may conduct a job fair to recruit for one type of position. Universities usually organize job fairs involving companies looking to recruit for various positions, many of them at junior levels. Not all make a distinction between the terms.
General fairs vs specialist fairs
If you are a fresh graduate who has not set eyes on a career in a particular industry, you should focus on general fairs. At these fairs, companies look to hire candidates fresh out of college with degrees in a variety of subjects.
If you have decided on an industry or a specialist career, you can attend specialist career fairs. Candidates across the board, from young lawyers to commerce and economics graduates, can hope to be recruited.
Virtual job fairs
Companies and universities also conduct job fairs online to connect with potential candidates. Chat rooms, teleconferencing, webinars, and webcasts are used. Job seekers send their resumes, and employers match positions with them.
Job-fair websites may have only links to the websites of companies. Some may have “booths” with listings about their products and job openings. Among the main advantages are that virtual fairs are more convenient to attend and may help limit biases caused by appearances and first impressions.