Dear Dave: You are already light years ahead of many of your peers just by asking the question and recognizing that you need to do something different to “stand out.” I would recommend the following five ways to optimally prepare for the event.
1. Prepare Your Brand: Make sure your resume does not look like everyone else’s resume that was either (1) helped by the Career Services Department, or (2) grabbed an overly used and outdated format online. Take the time to create a best practices-based resume that showcases more than just your degree. Explore the courses you have completed and you will complete, dig in to the projects from your more significant major-related courses, add other academic achievements, and be sure to fully explore any work experiences you have. Package this content in a format that will appeal to your audience—something conservative and professional—but that is also a little beyond the boring standard MS Word template.
2. Do Your Homework: Study, study, study! Review the list of exhibitors/recruiters and create a game plan for who you want to see first, second, etc. With such a large event, it is likely going to be impossible to meet representatives from every company, so have a game plan in mind to ensure you do not miss out on the opportunity to meet with the decision makers and influencers you really want to get in front of. Once you determine which companies you would like to meet with, research the company’s mission and culture, as well as how you may fit into the company.
3. Practice Your Pitch: Realizing that many of your peers will also have similar backgrounds, it’s time to make sure you provide something memorable about you. Introduce yourself and present your “qualifications” but also make this a little more personal so you have something “different.” If 100 students approach the same recruiter and each have similar resumes, similar education, and similar limited experiences, then think about how you can differentiate. Are you an athlete? Are you the first in your family to attend college? Do you have a special interest that relates to your professional persona? Are you an avid community volunteer? By reflecting on the company’s brand and mission, you can often find synergies between what is important to them and what is important to you; focus on that.
4. Collect Business Cards: Do not leave a recruiter without his/her business card or contact information. That evening, connect with them on LinkedIn with a short message of thanks for their time. Attach your resume to your LinkedIn message and ask if it would be okay for you to keep in touch. Check in with them routinely—as you go through the year—to uncover potential opportunities.
5. Understand Lessons Learned: Reflect on your experience with that of your peers. What was different? Did someone else experience the opportunity differently? Were offers made? Think about what you can learn from your experience as well as those of others, applying that to your next similar opportunity.
Good luck with the event. I am 100% certain if you take the time to do the above items, you will be head and shoulders above many of your competitors.