Members of the SWE editorial board answer questions from young professionals and collegians.
What last-minute tips do you have for preparing for the WE23 career fair and making the most of the experience?
Every year at its annual conference, SWE hosts the world’s largest career fair for women engineers and technologists. Collegians and professionals of all backgrounds, disciplines, and sectors get to connect with hundreds of organizations that are committed to advancing women in STEM with academic, internship, and career opportunities. Visiting the career fair can be both exhilarating and intimidating. I remember being overwhelmed the first time I visited: the throngs of people crowding around booths, the sheer size of the space, and the colorful and creative displays — including mascot photo ops, interactive simulators, and more — offered a lot of options. But with a little bit of prep, you’ll be a career fair pro, whether you’re a first-timer or veteran.
Dress for success
Pack a couple business casual or professional outfits that you feel comfortable in and that help you feel like you’re at your best. Whether these are dresses, pantsuits, blouse-and-skirt combinations, or other outfits, try them on before you leave for the conference to make sure they fit. Neutral colors are a safe bet, but color isn’t off-limits either. For example, I’ve worn a watercolor-print work dress in rainbow hues that is both tasteful for the setting and a piece I love wearing. The night before the career fair, hang your clothes up or lay them out to check for and remove any wrinkles.
You’ll want to put your best foot forward — literally. With so many exhibitors, there is a lot of ground to cover in walking up and down the career fair aisles. Wear shoes that are comfortable for strolling as well as standing in line for extended periods of time, such as flats, loafers, or shoes with a short heel. Additionally, keep all the senses in mind with your full career fair look. If you’re wearing any accessories, check if they pass the sound test when you move around to avoid any noisy jangling that might be distracting. Be mindful of wearing strong scents that might agitate those around you.
Make an impression
Practice making a stellar first impression. An elevator pitch is essential, particularly for answering the common recruiting questions of “Tell me about yourself” and “Why are you interested in us?” This brief way of introducing yourself in under a minute can include your name; any relevant experience you’ve had, such as an internship, work-study program, or club; elements of your background, such as your major and school; skills that would make you a good fit; and other aspects that show your interest. While your time with someone at a booth can be short, make it as much of a conversation as possible and have a few questions for the interviewer teed up. This is a great way to learn more about their experiences working at the organization and about its culture. Expressing interest can also help you stand out and show you’re serious about the opportunity.
Remember that communication goes beyond the words you say. You’ll want to practice your tone of voice and body language to match the cultures of your interviewers. For example, in the United States, a few ways to project confidence include standing up straight, using open arm gestures, and making a reasonable amount of eye contact. This additionally helps convey that you’re truly present and actively listening. Minimize nervous gestures like fidgeting or crossing your arms, which can make you appear distracted or closed off. Also consider your proximity to the person you’re talking with. Maintain a bubble of space so that you aren’t standing too close to the other person but are close enough to hear and fully engage in the conversation. Finally, a smile goes a long way in making you feel more relaxed and putting others at ease.
When preparing your bag for the career fair itself, start with a bag that’s comfortable to carry and looks professional for the setting. It should be roomy enough to include the items you need, and you might want some extra space to store swag that you pick up at booths. Then consider including the following items:
- Bring a pre-reviewed/highlighted agenda, whether that’s in a physical or digital format. Note the exhibitors you want to prioritize visiting first and their booth locations so you can chart an efficient path at the conference. That being said, be open to talking to organizations you might not have considered, as it may unlock opportunities down the road. You can download the WE23 mobile app in advance to get this information, and create a personalized schedule for the whole conference to balance career fair time, professional development sessions, networking events, and more.
- Have a notepad and pen, tablet, or phone handy to take notes. A padfolio is a great way to keep these items organized and keep track of any flyers or business cards provided by booths you visit.
- Pack at least 15–20 up-to-date resumes. Some organizations may take a physical copy, while others may take a photo with their recruiting technology, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. Also be sure to upload your current resume to the SWE Career Center (careers.swe.org) in advance so that recruiters and hiring managers know you are available to connect at the conference.
- Don’t forget essentials such as your phone, wallet, and room key. Also, bring a portable charger in case you need some extra battery juice; sometimes a wall outlet can be hard to come across, and it limits your ability to move around.
- Pack a water bottle so you can stay hydrated and a small snack if you need energy. If you need a breath freshener, opt for mints instead of gum so that you aren’t chewing in front of a potential recruiter.
While these tips will optimize your experience at WE23, they would be helpful for any career fair or professional event you attend.
And remember that you aren’t the only one taking your next career step, so lean on your network to prepare together. Practice and exchange tips with a friend, host a preconference session with your SWE section, or consult your school’s career center for advice.
Most importantly, have a growth mindset and treat each moment as a learning opportunity. If one opportunity doesn’t pan out, there’s another one right behind it, and you’ll be a stronger person because of your experiences.
Nicole Woon (she/her) is a SharePoint product manager with Microsoft and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with an M.S.E. (mechanical engineering) and two B.S.E.s (bio-engineering and entrepreneurial management). Recognized as a SWE Distinguished New Engineer in 2021, she is an active SWE life member and is chair-elect of the SWE editorial board.
For more tips:
Find these sessions and others online via SWE’s Advance Learning Center, advancelearning.swe.org:
• Speak Up! How to Show Up with Presence and Communicate Your Ideas Effectively | SWE
• The Resume: What Do Recruiters Want? | SWE
• How to Show Up and Show Out at a Virtual Career Fair | SWE