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Career Fair Tips to Get Noticed and Land a Job

Smiling women with name tags looking at folder of resumes at a career fair

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 their recruiters meet with potential candidates. It’s an opportunity for job seekers to interact with and learn about career opportunities with many companies in a single setting. Career fairs typically take place in an auditorium or other large room and consist of rows of booths. 

Career fairs are most commonly held by colleges, professional organizations, or community groups. They may focus on a specific field, like STEM, or be broadly available to all job seekers. Some large companies even hold their own career fairs to fill internal positions in various departments. 

Why attend a career fair?

Explore career options

Career fairs efficiently and effectively expose students and young professionals to a wide range of information. They’re great for anyone trying to figure out which path to follow. Since company employees often staff booths, career fairs offer a chance to hear directly from people who work in an industry or job you’re interested in learning more about.

Get valuable face time

Meeting with a recruiter face-to-face can help you make a stronger impression than 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 and extend job offers right on the spot. 

Gain professional advice

Career fairs can offer more benefits than finding a specific job. Often, attendees will have access to specialists who review resumes and provide feedback for improvement – tips on how to highlight relevant experience, emphasize key skills, and customize the resume to a specific job or industry. Some fairs even feature workshops or panels where experts share insights on job search strategies, interview skills, and career development.

Network

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. It can be a great opportunity to build a network of useful contacts that can contribute to your career growth.

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 is usually a large selection of booths. 

3. Register

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. Stick to the basics you can hold in one hand. 

6. Update your resume

Update your resume so that it summarizes your strongest skills and qualifications well. If you know you’re particularly interested in one or two jobs, you might create a special resume specifically for those positions and keep it separate from the rest.

While we recommend tailoring 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. Everyone on the company side working a booth knows this, so don’t worry about that. However, if you know of specific employer or jobs you’ll target at the fair, you can always customize your resume for those.

Related: Sample resumes

7. Practice an elevator pitch

Your elevator speech is a 30- to 60-second statement summarizing who you are, your strongest skills, and the type of job you’re looking for. Should you plan on repeating this speech incessantly 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. This is a situation where it’s better to overprepare, so 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 to ask

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 in the mix

On the day of the fair, it’s your time to shine! Don’t just stand on the sidelines. Take the initiative by approaching the companies on your shortlist. Offer a handshake and introduce yourself using your elevator pitch and list of questions to start the conversation. Every recruiter who has ever worked a both knows many attendees are nervous, so don’t let that hold you back.

11. Take notes

Names, faces, and conversations tend to blur together by the end of a busy career fair. Assume you won’t remember any of it, so be sure to write it all 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 – all of it! Collecting business cards and making notes on them 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. Later the same evening or the following day, send connection requests on LinkedIn to the people you met. Follow through on the next steps by submitting applications or providing any additional materials recruiters requested.

In conclusion, career fairs require a bit of preparation, but with some advance planning and practice, can be a convenient and valuable way to figure out the next step on your professional journey. You’ve got this! Happy hunting!