Walking into your first career fair can be overwhelming. There are dozens of booths, crowds of people hoping to stand out and recruiters peppering prospective applicants with questions. It’s a lot to take in.
But you’re there for one reason: to find a job. For the best chance of doing so, you have to come prepared and keep your eyes on the prize. Follow the career fair tips below to get noticed and walk away with one or more strong job prospects.
What is a career fair?
Don’t worry, it’s not a silly question.
At a career fair, companies and the recruiters that work for them meet with potential candidates. People who are looking for a job get more information on different companies. Career fairs typically take place in an auditorium or other large room and consist of booths set up in rows.
Career fairs are often held by colleges, professional organizations or community groups. They may be focused on a specific field, like STEM, or be broadly targeted to all job seekers. Some large companies even hold their own career fairs to fill their internal positions in various departments.
Why attend a career fair?
Explore career options
Career fairs can help you learn what’s out there career-wise. They’re great for young professionals who are still figuring out which path to follow. Since booths are often staffed by company employees, they offer you a chance to hear from people who work directly in a role or field you’re interested in.
Get face time
Meeting face to face with a recruiter can help you make a stronger impression than when you’re just messaging back and forth over email. If your interaction goes well, they can put your name on a shortlist of top candidates or schedule an interview. Some companies even interview candidates right on the spot at job fairs.
Gain professional advice
Career fairs can be for more than just finding a job. They often have other useful resources for applicants, like specialists who can review your resume and make suggestions to strengthen it.
In addition to getting one-on-one time with company reps, career fairs give you the chance to meet other professionals in your industry and leaders from your community. Don’t think of these people as competing against you for jobs; instead, see them as valuable connections that may prove to be mutually beneficial down the road.
Career fair strategies for success
To make the most of your upcoming event, follow these tips to prepare.
1. Pick the right career fair
While some career fairs are meant for anyone and everyone, many have a specific audience of attendees in mind.
If you’re looking for an engineering job, you wouldn’t want to attend a career fair for the hospitality industry. Likewise, a college career fair wouldn’t be a good choice if you’re a mid-level professional. So, be sure to look at the details to make sure the event you plan on attending is worth your time.
2. Read up on the exhibitors
Learn more than just the date and time of the fair. Find out what companies will be there and see if they’re advertising ahead of time which roles they’ll be hiring for.
Make a list of the top handful of companies you want to meet with. You may end up meeting with many more, but having a few primary targets will give you a place to start in what’s usually a large selection of different booths.
If you have the ability to register ahead of time, do so. You might have the option to schedule a time slot in advance with some recruiter, which can be useful for planning your day and prioritizing top meetings.
4. Dress for success
You don’t necessarily need to wear a full suit, but you do want to look your best. Wear conservative clothing that leans more business than casual.
For men, slacks, a dress shirt and a jacket is a good look. Be sure to try on the jacket ahead of time if it’s been a while since you last wore it. Women might wear a business-appropriate dress or a skirt or pants with a blouse and jacket. Hemlines and necklines should be conservative. Wear clean, professional shoes you’ll be comfortable walking around in.
It’s generally a good idea to stick to neutral colors and muted patterns to avoid having your clothes distract from your conversations. However, a single item in a memorable color or pattern, like a bright necktie for men or a bold piece of jewelry for women, can help you stand out in recruiters’ minds.
5. Prepare your materials
Bring a neat-looking folder, a notepad, a pen, and 20 to 30 copies of your resume (more on preparing your resume for career fairs in a moment). Don’t bring a backpack or other bulky bag that you’ll have to lug around with you. Stick to just the basics you can hold in one hand.
6. Update your resume
While it’s good job-seeking practice to tailor your resume to each job you’re applying for, you can’t do that when you don’t necessarily know who you’ll be handing it to on the day of the fair.
So, update your resume so that it gives a good overall summary of your strongest skills and qualifications. If there are one or two jobs you know you’re particularly interested in, you might create a special resume specifically for those positions and keep them separate from the rest.
7. Practice an elevator pitch
This is a 30- to 60-second speech that summarizes who you are, what your strongest skills are and the type of job you’re looking for. Should you plan on repeating this speech ad nauseum on the day of the fair? No, but practicing it ahead of time will ensure you have a few polished, professional-sounding talking points during your important conversations.
8. Prepare for recruiter questions
Career fair interactions don’t usually have a rigid question-and-answer format like a more formal job interview, but you’ll likely still be asked some questions about yourself as a candidate. Take a look at our list of the most common interview questions and sample answers to prepare for likely topics.
9. Make a list of questions of your own
Since career fairs are more informal than job interviews, they’re a great chance to chat more casually about topics that will help you get a feel for different employers and career paths. If you’re talking with an employee, you might ask about their background or why they like their job. If it’s a recruiter you’re speaking with, you might ask them what the company is looking for in candidates.
10. Get out there
The day of the fair, it’s your time to shine. Don’t just linger around the perimeter. Put yourself out there starting with the company shortlist you prepared. Offer a handshake and introduce yourself, using your elevator pitch and list of questions to help kick off the conversation.
11. Take notes
Don’t assume you’ll remember who you talked to. Names, faces, and conversations tend to blur together by the end of a busy career fair. Write down the companies you met with, the names of the people you spoke with, any memorable things you talked about, and the next steps you need to take. Getting business cards as you go is an easy way to keep track of all your new contacts.
12. Follow up
Your work isn’t done once the career fair ends. That evening or the following day, send connection requests on LinkedIn to the people you met with. Follow through on next steps by submitting applications or providing any additional materials recruiters requested.
They require a bit of preparation, but with some advance planning and practice, career fairs can be a convenient and valuable way to figure out the next step on your professional journey.