Do your research. Examine organizations’ websites and profiles on LinkedIn to find out about the employers and notable people attending.
Wear clothing appropriate to your industry, and make sure you have pockets or another safe spot to store business cards. Bring multiple copies of your résumé—at least two for each employer you plan to meet plus extras for other people you’ll make contact with—your portfolio, samples of your work that you’re prepared to give out, and a stack of your own business cards if you have them.
Be brief and focused when you introduce yourself to a potential employer. Stick with the basics:
- What position you’re interested in
- Relevant coursework and internship/job experience
- What sets you apart from other students in your major
- Why you want to work for that company
If you’re at a fair solely for people with your major, focus on your strengths and areas of interest. Have you targeted your studies on product design or mobile app design? What specific successful projects can you describe? Find a way to tie your experience and interests to the employer.
Example: Hello, I’m Janet Russell, and I’m a junior in industrial design. I would like to pursue mobile app development. This fall as an intern at Dow Chemical Innovation at the University of Illinois Research Park, I collaborated on a mobile cooking app that incorporates shopping, list-making, nutrition, and recipe applications into one user-friendly interface. I really admired how intuitive and simple your fitness app was for a wide variety of audiences, and I am interested in your position as junior developer so that I can join a team creating projects that bring together people, technology, and health.
Give each person a copy of your résumé and other work-related materials. Be polite and friendly, and be confident and engaging when you speak. Think of each encounter as a conversation rather than an interview. Your pitch should be ready, but ask questions: What do they like about working there? What happens during a typical day? What project is most promising? What are they passionate about? Listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions or share your related experiences. Also be prepared to respond to standard interview questions. Find a way to be memorable: wear a striking item of clothing or tell a work anecdote with unusual details. If you know students at the event or see your instructors, introduce them to others when you can. You never know what connections may result.
At a career fair, you may have just two minutes to present your portfolio. Be prepared to convey each project’s prompt and explain why your solution was useful and creative. Even if you present your design solution first, remember to tell a story—with a beginning, a middle, and an end—so that listeners can follow along. You may also have a chance to mention research points of interest you discovered during the process phases.
Since time is limited, an employer may ask you to focus on a favorite project or two. Be ready with your choices and explain why you selected them. Mention what role you played on the team and discuss what your team members did. Make sure that all large images in your portfolio are your work so that you can ensure that your contributions are clear.
Top 10 Portfolio Presentation Mistakes
Jessica Henson, RLA, ASLA, visiting designer-in-residence at the Department of Landscape Architecture, offered her prime insights on portfolio sessions. Avoid these pitfalls and make every presentation an opportunity to let your work and interest in the field shine.
10. You assume people have a lot of time to listen.
You may have just one or two minutes to explain the project’s parameters and your smart solutions. Be concise.
9. You’re too general or too specific.
Use concrete descriptions but do not overload your explanations with details.
8. You fail to explain the work.
Start with one sentence that summarizes the problem and follow it with one that emphasizes the novel solution.
7. You forget to connect with the audience.
Have a conversation, not a monologue. Ask about successful projects, duration at the company, or favorite aspects of working there.
6. You repeat words or talk too slow or too fast.
Prepare your pitch and be sure to take a moment to gather your thoughts before you begin.
5. You don’t rehearse.
Practice telling different people about your project in a range of settings.
4. You take credit for the entire team’s work.
Make clear that each project was collaborative and define your role.
3. You fumble with the portfolio.
Memorize your portfolio’s content and make sure the interviewer can see it at all times.
2. You’re unprepared for basic questions.
Do your homework on every firm before interviewing. Refer to your influences, role models, and favorite projects and show that you love what you do.
1. You cut off questions.
Engage with your audience so that they want to know more. End your talk with an open invitation for questions.
Wrap Up & Follow Up
Thank each person for their time and ask about the best way to follow up. Take business cards and any giveaways offered. Then reconnect by sending an email message or a handwritten note or making contact via LinkedIn.