You’re in the home stretch. Just 12 more credit hours to complete that shiny, new degree. You’ve poured your blood, sweat, tears and oh so many dollars into the last 4 (Or 5….or 6…) years of your life to get to this moment. So now what?

If you are like most recent graduates, now is the critical time to start looking for your first real job and making your first real career decisions.

According to Glassdoor, 75% of companies actively recruit and hire college graduates. Of those companies, 98% of them cite college career fairs as the best way to promote their brand with students. On the flip side, this is also students’ and recent graduates’ best time to brand themselves with said companies.

With an unemployment rate sitting at 4.1%, career fairs in 2018 will be more important than ever to companies looking to vamp up hiring. Students who are looking for employment after graduation, who play their cards right at these career fairs, could find themselves with many offers and career opportunities. Here is how to be sure you are part of that group:

1.       Don’t dress like a “Millennial” – Look, we get it. You don’t want that job that makes you wear your Dad’s tie to work every day. At ReluTech, you are lucky to catch me even wearing a shirt with a collar. But for the college fair setting, you will be meeting with many companies, with many different company cultures. Invest in a well-fitted suit, get it pressed and suck it up for a day. Your first impression to these companies is critical, make sure your attire does not deter them before you even shake their hands.

2.       Spend time on your resume- As an employer, we know your work experience is going to be limited. However, we want to see what kind of work ethic you had while in school. Along with employment you had during the year or summer months, be sure to include any involvement in clubs, sports, sorority / fraternity leadership roles, class projects, academic honors, ect. For this setting, keep it limited to one page and be sure to print plenty of copies to hand out to multiple employers.

3.       Plan your attack- Most careers fairs will supply attendees with maps and a list of companies that are attending. Be sure to research and stop by 3 companies that you are interested in or are in your field of study. You may even be able to look up who is attending the fair from those companies, or at least who their campus recruiters are on LinkedIn (See #4). To go above and beyond, see if there are areas that you have in common with that person based on their profile and bring it up in conversation. Don’t worry, it’s not creepy, and it will set you apart. After you hit your targets, spend time walking up and down the aisles, talking to as many companies as you can. You may find awesome companies or jobs you didn’t even know existed!

4.       Create a LinkedIn?- The employers you meet will leave that fair with 100+ resumes. Even if you made a great impression, you may still get lost in the shuffle. So before attending, create a LinkedIn profile with a professional picture (in professional clothing, no kegs in the background please). Then, be sure to connect with the people you met that day. Follow up InMails or emails are a must as well, to show you are serious in your interest.

5.       Practice your delivery- First, you should have a 30 second elevator pitch that serves as your intro. This comes after the smile, handshake, and “Hi, my name is..” If you were like me at age 18, this may be the hardest part. How do years of lifeguarding experience with a political science degree translate to the business world? Most employers aren’t looking for hard skills at this point. They want to hear what motivates you, what drives you, what you are passionate about, what goals do you have in life, ect. If you are speaking with one of your target companies, be prepared to share why you have them in that category and why you would love to work for them. Ask the companies why they are there and what jobs or internships they need to hire for. Be sure to keep eye contact, use firm handshakes, and smile.

I have been to countless career fairs as an employer, and even found my first job at the University of Georgia career fair in 2012. When taken seriously, this is a massive opportunity to jump-start your career.

If you are interested in a career in the technology industry, whether it be in a technical, sales, marketing, or operations role, you can catch me and the ReluTech team at the Georgia Tech Career Fair on January 25 and the University of Georgia Career Fair on January 31.