Accounting career fairs are a crucial part of getting your accounting career off the ground. In order to make sure you land a position and get your foot in the door, here's a comprehensive guide that walks you through everything you need to know from what to wear to the types of questions you can be asking recruiters to make you stand out among the rest.
How to Dress at Accounting Career Fairs
To stay on the safe side, always go with business formal and to wear suits that fit with formal dress shoes. Get an in depth look at just exactly what to wear by checking out our blog about proper business attire.
How to Prepare
Most career fairs at universities have a website where you can find the companies that are attending. This is a REQUIREMENT if you’re going to the career fair. You need to make sure you’re prioritizing the firms you want to see before you arrive. Many companies will have a 30-40-80 person line, and if that’s your top choice, you don’t want to show up in the last hour.
You also need to check out the website of the company you’re interested in. Look for them in media publications, find out what charities they’re involved in, which major clients they serve in your area, and what type of programs they offer for someone like you (training, tours in other countries, summer leadership programs, etc). This can make great conversation starters if there is something you’re curious about and will show you did your research.
Make sure your clothes are ironed and ready the day before. You can’t get dry cleaning done the same day as the career fair and most places close around 6:00 pm. You don’t want to walk in with something that doesn’t fit, is outdated, sloppy, or doesn’t match.
Be sure it’s polished before you show up and is only one page long. Try and print it on some special paper to make it stand out a little bit. There should be no spelling errors and it should be consistent all the way through. Print 50 copies of your resume before you attend and make sure the paper is unique since weighted paper can give your resume that extra pop.
Write a cover letter if a specific company requires it; however, that is very rare for a career fair. Save the cover letter for online resume submissions and just go for the one-page resume.
Business cards will only make you more of what you already are. If you’re disorganized, poorly dressed, poorly presented, and your picture is on the business card, rest assured it will serve as a memo of a bad first impression. However, if you’re clean, polished, fresh, it can really help you stand out.
You need to make sure that when you walk into the career fair you have an elevator speech prepared. That way, when you make eye contact with that first person, you’re ready to smile, and calmly and confidently walk up to them and start chatting: “Hi, how are you? I’m happy to meet you as I wanted to make sure I talk to as many people as I can from 'X company'. I was checking out your website and saw that you are one of the companies that offers summer leadership adventures and want to talk to someone about what the experience is like, and what I need to do to apply?”
Then, they may ask for your resume and you’ll exchange pleasantries. Maybe they are a school alumni and you lived in the same dorm, were part of the same fraternity, or had a common professor. Be calm, playful, make eye contact, and be enthusiastic and curious.
The Day Of
It’s important that once you make eye contact with someone, as long as there is not a line, walk up to them and start the conversation. Be sure that you’re making the most of your time at the career fair (i.e, there are a couple of key people you MUST talk to). You may have had great communication with others, but you probably won’t get hired if you don’t speak to the right players. Make sure you meet the people who have the authority or power, to get you in the door.
Meet the Partners/Upper management
They call the shots at the end of the day. They are the ones who make the decisions on who is in and who is out for the final offers. You MUST talk with them at the career fair. Hopefully, if you speak to someone who isn’t the partner or upper management, they give you an indication of who is. For example, “Oh I love working on ‘X’ client. Joanne over there is the partner and she is really fun to work with, lots of happy hours!”. BAM! You’ve got the cue. Continue the conversation with that person, and eventually speak to the person who calls the shots.
Meet the Recruiters
While recruiters don’t have much authority at the firm, they are the gatekeepers and funnel most of the information that gets shown to the partners and upper management. Similarly to the secretary of the CEO, you want to be on their good side so you can get in and not be shut out. The recruiters also have a vested interested in finding the best candidates as their ability to do so is tied to their bonus, and pay raise. Ask them a ton of questions, be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the firm/company, and display how you would act if you were interviewing with management or hired full time.
Questions to ask at the career fair
Here are some great questions you can ask while you're meeting professionals. They show that you're insightful and are well prepared.
- How long have you been with the firm?
- Where did you go to university?
- What type of clients do you work on?
- Tell me about the culture of your firm
- What are the major clients in the office?
- Do you have international opportunities?
- Do you sponsor visa’s? (look out for future podcasts on this topic)
- What type of socials and events does the company have?
- What is one big initiative that your company is working on internally?
- What has kept you at “x” company for so long?
- What is your favorite part about your job?
- What is your favorite thing you have done since you started at “x” company?
- What’s your biggest piece of advice for someone in my position?
- How can I apply for “x” position?
- Can I have your business card?
After the Career Fair
As you’re going through the career fair, you may meet 10, 20, or 100 people. You need to make sure that you receive a business card from each person. If someone is new and forgot their business cards, take a moment and write down their email. After each conversation or after speaking with each company, take a second, and write down on the back of the business cards, or on the back of one of your resumes (one that you will keep) some of the things you spoke about.
This is KEY.
Have meaningful points to add in a follow up email is crucial. For example: “It was so nice to speak to someone who is from Virginia, and I really appreciate your advice on taking the CPA exam before I start full time. Thank you so much for your advice!” It’s beneficial to note here that if you’re worried about a particular part of your experience, maybe your GPA is low, or you’re only a freshman, or maybe, you have no leadership experience on your resume, you will receive responses if you connect with the people you meet. If you can reach enough people, 30, 50, 100 individuals, eventually one will convert into an interview!
Another piece of advice is to wait until the next morning to send the follow-up email. As you’ll see below, connecting with them on LinkedIn is a great touch point to make that same day. However, draft the email that day when all of the experiences are fresh in your mind, and send your emails at 7:30am the next morning. Why 7:30? Well, if not right after the career fair, then the next morning, all of the employees whom attended the career fair get together and share comments. They discuss who they think killed it, who is on the edge, and who is an absolute no. If you’ve hit them with the touch point of a LinkedIn request in the evening, and an email before they even get to work (or Monday morning for a Friday career fair), you’ll be on their mind and have the best chance of moving from the tipping point, to a solid yes!
Following up on Linkedin
Connect with the professionals you met at career fair on LinkedIn, and do it that same evening. It’s the perfect time! Sometimes LinkedIn requires you enter the person’s email and what do you happen to have is their business card! Many businesses utilize LinkedIn as a great way to get a good overview of candidates and people they have just met, so make sure you connect that evening to show how serious you are about advancing your career. Sometimes this simple gesture can help separate you from the rest of your peers.