Internships are an awkward blessing. They represent a point in a young professional’s life when he or she embarks on the road to a career. It’s the in-between, not quite a student, but not quite a professional island of occupational pubescence. Being an intern parallels being a teenager: you think you’re an adult but not all the way. You want responsibility, but not too much; and last but not least, you really don’t know what you’re doing.
Many begin their journey with the all-important and oh-so-confusing internship fair, the first set of first impressions. Sure, you’ve had jobs before, but this is the initial step toward something that is supposed to benefit your life beyond a paycheck. The people at an internship fair are potentially interested in you possibly doing anything from fetching coffee to managing a crucial aspect of their business. So the question is; what do you do?
We all should know the basics. The mundane rhetoric of every mentor/professor/former boss we’ve ever had tells us it’s better to be too formal than too casual: “Wear a suit and tie just to be safe.” We know these things. We know how to dress, speak, and avoid coming off as uneducated. The real key to an internship fair is not only presentation, however; it’s presenting yourself to the right people and gaining some real knowledge about your options.
Every up-and-coming professional there is going to have a resume ready, dress nicely, and have something impressive to say. What sets you apart though, is the fact you’re going to flip the script and turn this random collection of potential interviewers into carefully selected interviewees. There are many different aspects of the experience that make this conversion a reality, but three steps are the real bread and butter of the operation.
1. Do your research:
Find out who is going to be there who is not, who interests you and who doesn’t. It sounds somewhat tedious, but it won’t really take that long or prove to be difficult. Most venue hosts have a listing of participants available over two weeks prior to the event. This will really help the process in terms of efficiency. There are a lot of people at these fairs, and if you’re into marketing and public relations, and a company is all about finance management, you shouldn’t even waste your time.
2. Prepare specific questions:
So, now you that know who you plan to talk to, figure out what you are going to talk about. It’s true that waiting in line to stand at a table for a couple of minutes is far from an interview. The person you talk to at the fair probably won’t even be the person who ends up interviewing you, and when all is said and done, you’ll get a business card, a bunch of papers to fill out, some pencils, and a chance to write your name on the mailing list like everyone else. However, the more questions you ask, the more detail you gain about the company or organization. You should remember that the only reason you’re at the fair is for yourself. Also, asking deeper questions leads to the need for more complex answers. Many times these questions are referred to someone else perhaps more involved within the company. This means you get to speak to, email, or fax a new connect. Networking is the key and oftentimes a good simple question is what gets your foot in the door.
3. Go by yourself:
Of course, it’s always fun to bring friends along to walk, talk, mingle and laugh, but, really—your friends don’t have to be with you. It’s difficult enough to make an impression in a sea of your peers—why show up with a clique? The chances of all your friends having the same career goals and paths is very slim, so they’ll probably just waste time talking to people that only you care about, and vice versa. They might even rush you from valuable information because they are bored or tired of standing. A team of friends at an internship fair is a bad look, to say the least.
These three tips should help your professional adolescence run more smoothly. There will be the awkward, unsure moments, of course; but I hope that these words of wisdom help you make the tables at the internship fair different from the ones that were in the cafeteria at lunch a few years ago.
You can contact Jason Burr at firstname.lastname@example.org