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I've always thought the phrase "career fair" was an oxymoron: While the word "fair" brings up nostalgic memories of cotton candy and Tilt-A-Whirls, the word "career" evokes cubicles, grey suits, and fears of post-grad life. However, Barnard and Columbia's career fairs are not nearly as dreary. Instead, picture a ton of friendly faces behind tables that want YOU to work for them!

If you're looking for a job or internship either post-graduation or for the summer, it never hurts to hit up the Barnard Job and Internship Fair taking place this Friday or Columbia's Spring Career Fair on Feb. 17.

Whether you're overwhelmed by the thought of career fairs or you're looking to stand out amongst the rest of the student body, read on for some helpful tips and tricks on how to master the job-hunting experience.

First impressions

First impressions DO matter. However, there's no need to break out your prom dress or the tux you wore to your uncle's wedding. If a blazer with a nice button-down shirt and a tie is your thing, go for it; if you're more of a skirt, tights, and cardigan kind of person, that works too. Make sure it's not wrinkled and that there aren't any stains—looking like a schlub makes you seem unprepared.

If you're lacking an outfit that screams "hire me," BC students can borrow suits from Career Development and CU students can do the same from the Center for Career Education.

Take a breath before approaching the recruiter and remind yourself that they are, like you, just a person. When introducing yourself, smile and firmly shake their hand. A simple "Hi, Miles Greenspoon,* nice to meet you" is enough. State why you're interested in working for them or ask a question to show you're familiar with the organization (more on that below).

*Note: Insert your own name here. Please don't use my name unless you want to get an internship for me. (On second thought, please use my name.)

Come prepared

In a plain folder, bring a bunch of crisp copies of your most updated résumé (and if you need some application advice, we've got an article for that). Maybe bring a nice pen to write down your contact information for companies that ask, but there's no need to bring anything too fancy. Don't be that guy who brings his own business cards; do be that guy who collects everyone's business cards.

Beat the line

It takes just five seconds to register online, and then you just need to flash your confirmation page at the door before heading inside. Barnard's registration can be found here, and Columbia's here. Otherwise, you're gonna freeze your ass off while waiting in line. Don't do that.

Know who will be there

Before the career fairs, the entire undergraduate student body receives a detailed list of the companies that will be present at the fair (here's the one for Barnard if you foolishly deleted your copy). The industries range from nonprofit organizations to tech to finance to retail and everything in between, so you'll probably find something that piques your interest.

Do your homework

Once you find the organization or company of your choice, make sure to do some background research so you can drop a knowledge bomb or two on their recruiter—maybe something along the lines of, "I saw your company has offices in Dallas, Chicago, and Omaha. Where are you specifically looking to hire?" or "I noticed you have both Warren Buffett and Macy's as clients, would an intern be able to work with both individuals and corporations?"

By asking a question specific to their company, you are implying, "Hey, I want to work for you enough that I at least bothered reading through your website for a little while, which is more than most of these schmucks talking to you today." It makes you look prepared and competent, ergo memorable.

Follow up

Soon after the career fair, be sure to reach out to the recruiter you met. Even just saying how nice it was to chat with them and that you look forward to being in touch soon goes a long way. In fact, you can even email HR beforehand to let them know you will be at the fair and are looking forward to meeting them—that way your name is in their head.

While this advice will help, remember that you are looking to sell your abilities—be confident, be genuine, and don't break into tears in the middle of the fair yelling, "Somebody please hire me?”

Many thanks to my good friend Ben Gersten, GS/JTS '18, who told me about the experiences that helped shape this article.

Think you've mastered the art of the career fair? Tell us how on Facebook, Twitter, or on Snapchat @CUSpectrum.

Miles Greenspoon is a Spectrum staff writer and GS/JTS junior. He will be going to the career fairs because he has no idea what he's doing with his life. Reach him at miles.greenspoon@columbiaspectator.com or @mileshasjokes.

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