As a college student, you’re gaining a lot of knowledge and experience to take with you into the professional world. Of course, there’s no substitute for actually getting your feet wet with a job in your field. Summer internships are incredibly effective tools for your education.

When you intern with a company while you’re in college, you have a greater chance of getting a job offer from them when you graduate. On the other hand, an internship might show you that you’re focusing on the wrong part of your field of study or that you want to change your major to better fit your education with the career path you want to take.

Of course, if you’re like a lot of students, you’re probably thinking, “Great…but where do I get an internship?” Nearly every college and university in the country holds a career fair toward the end of each semester.

What’s a career fair? These small conventions allow companies to come present themselves to students who could be their next prospective employees or interns. Students get to walk from booth to booth, chatting with company representatives, discussing opportunities, job descriptions, and other related topics.

Students get an idea of what each company offers and whether they might fit with a particular company’s atmosphere and culture. Likewise, hiring managers can often get a feel for students who approach them and determine whether or not they’d like to invite them to interview for an internship or a position after graduation.

Of course, you can’t just walk into a career fair and expect to make a good impression. If you pay attention, on the day of a career fair, you’ll see more students walking around in suits with portfolios under their arms. However, while dressing professionally is a great start, it’s not the only thing you’ll need to do to make a good impression at a career fair. Take a moment and get to know the do’s and don’ts of career fairs.

Do’s and Don’ts of Preparing For and Attending College Career Fairs

DOGo online to your school’s career services page, and check out the companies that will be represented at the fair. You should be able to search through companies looking for employees and interns in your major, which will help you save time and work your way more efficiently through the fair.

DON’TShow up in a pair of flip-flops and jeans. You want to show your potential employers that you are serious about working for them and that you’re willing to put effort into a professional appearance.

DOBring plenty of copies of your résumé on high-quality paper stock in a portfolio where they won’t get crushed or crumpled. You can estimate the number of copies to bring based on the number of employers that will be represented at the fair and/or on the number of employers you intend to talk with. Be sure to bring a few extra just in case, as well.

DON’TAsk about salary for interns or full-time employees. Remember, you haven’t been invited for an interview yet. If an employer gets the idea that you’re only interested in the money, they’re not likely to speak with you again.

DOPrepare some questions to ask the company representatives you speak with, and be prepared to answer some of their questions, as well. Their questions will most likely be straightforward interview-style questions about you, your major, your passions, and where you see yourself going with your career. Practice answering these in front of a mirror so that you don’t get taken off-guard and so that you know that you can answer in a relaxed, confident manner.

DON’TAsk questions that you can find on the company’s website. This just shows that you haven’t done any preparation and that you aren’t taking the career fair very seriously.

DOListen to others around you as you wait to talk with company representatives. They will likely ask similar questions to the ones you’ve prepared. Instead of just repeating them, you can start your conversation with the representative with something like, “I heard you telling the woman ahead of me about your internship program. How often do you place interns with the company after graduation?” If you make them repeat themselves, you’re wasting both your time and theirs. If you jump right in with the knowledge you’ve gained from listening, you show that you’re perceptive and you keep the conversation fresh for them.

Finally, after you leave the fair, be sure to take contact information for all of the company representatives with whom you spoke. Send them quick thank-you emails to refresh their memories about you, and then apply for their summer internships online as soon as possible. They’ll likely remember you when they go through applicants to invite for an interview, and you could be looking at a summer full of experience in your field.

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