As a college student or a recent graduate, taking your first steps into the world of work will be your top priority. And although job boards and referrals will help you land your first job, attending career fairs (which are usually organized by your college or university) can be a great way to get your résumé out there.
Not only does attending a career fair offer you the chance to touch base with dozens — if not hundreds — of potential employers and learn about job opportunities in your industry, but it also often gives you access to free workshops and seminars, while you’ll even be able to practice your interview skills.
But how do you effectively prepare for a career fair (whether in-person or virtual) and navigate the often daunting and awkward task of connecting with prospective employers?
We’ve got you covered! Here are our top 10 career fair tips to help you stand out from the crowd.
1. Find out who will be there
First things first, find out which companies and employers will be at the career fair. You can do this by checking out the event’s website, where you’ll typically find the list of companies that have registered to attend.
Review this list and identify the companies you’re most interested in pursuing. (It’s a good idea to prioritize the ones you want to approach at the fair — if you run out of time to meet everyone, you’ll have at least spoken to the employers at the top of your list).
Be sure to research each company (through their website or a simple Google search), paying special attention to their mission, culture and the type of skills and qualities they value in potential employees. The more familiar you are with your target companies, the better equipped you’ll be at navigating your preliminary interview with each one.
Don’t just wing it and show up to the career fair without first doing your homework, as this not only shows a lack of preparation but also a lack of any real interest in the companies you’re approaching.
2. Prepare a few talking points
Once you complete your research, think about how you can use the information you learned and prepare a few talking points for your interview with each employer. This will help you break the ice and keep the conversation going.
That said, career fair interviews tend to be quite short (employers will possibly be meeting hundreds of interested candidates and won’t be able to dedicate more than a few minutes with each one), so you’ll want to make sure your talking points are meaningful, relevant and tailored to the company.
On that note, it’s also a good idea to prepare an elevator pitch (a 30 to 60-second soundbite that summarizes your experience, education and career goals) that you can use to introduce yourself to potential employers.
3. Update your résumé
Before you go to the career fair, take the time to update your résumé so that it effectively markets your top skills and achievements. Make sure to choose an appropriate format, start bullet points with powerful action words, and use numbers to quantify your accomplishments.
At the fair, be sure to hand out your résumé to every company that you approach — on that note, it’s a good idea to bring more copies of your résumé than you think you’ll need, as recruiters might require more than one copy or you might decide to approach other companies that you weren’t originally planning to.
Meanwhile, if you know which companies you specifically want to approach, it’s a good idea to develop a tailored résumé for each and every one of them.
4. Dress for success
First impressions are often influenced by what we wear. And if you show up to a career fair (or any professional event, for that matter) in a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, employers will likely form the wrong impression of you — and you’ll end up blowing your chances of securing a job.
Instead, dress in smart casual or business casual attire — if you dress like a winner, you’ll be seen as one.
When choosing your outfit, though, make sure it’s light and comfortable. After all, you might spend several hours at the event, and the last thing you want is to look and feel hot and bothered.
Even if you’re attending a virtual career fair (where you won’t be meeting employers in person), it’s still a good idea to dress professionally for your video interview.
5. Arrive early
Career fairs tend to get very crowded — fast.
If your schedule allows, try to get there as early as possible — ideally, before the lunch hour, as that’s when career fairs are typically the busiest. That said, don’t arrive too early. If the fair starts at 11am, for example, don’t show up at 10am, when the organizers will likely be making some final setup adjustments.
Try to arrive 30 minutes before the start of the fair. This will give you a head-start over everyone else and avoid long queues. You’ll also get to speak to employers before they’re too tired from networking all day long.
6. Ask questions
Beyond preparing and practising responses to common interview questions, you should also take the time to prepare some questions of your own to ask. Remember: the most successful interview is a two-way conversation — not an interrogation.
Asking some well-thought-out and interesting questions about the company not only helps you evaluate their culture and demonstrate your fit, but it also reaffirms your interest in working for that company.
Don’t ask “yes” or “no” questions, and instead prefer open-ended questions that require more than a one-word response. More importantly, don’t ask questions whose answers you can easily find on the company website.
7. Take notes
As you meet with company representatives, you’ll learn a lot of information about their companies — and it’s impossible to keep track and retain all that information as you jump from one interview to the next.
Keeping clear and detailed notes of each conversation will help you recall important details that will be useful in your follow-up (more on that later). It also shows that you’re engaged in the conversation and that you’re really interested in the company — and what better way to make a lasting impression?
So, whether you’re attending an in-person or a virtual career fair, make sure you have a pen and notepad on standby.
8. Network with other attendees
In addition to networking with potential employers, career fairs offer you a great opportunity to network with the other attendees. You’ll need as many professional contacts as possible, particularly if you’re just starting out in your career, so take the time to build your network and initiate meaningful conversations with your fellow attendees.
Yes, everyone else attending the fair is your competition — but they can also be your ally. Who knows? That man you talked to might prove to be a useful contact when you’re next looking for a job!
9. Get employers’ contact information
Don’t leave the career fair without the contact information of the employers that interest you!
As you wrap up the interview, and before you leave the booth, be sure to take a business card from the company representative you spoke to. If you don’t see a stack lying around, then ask for one or at least jot down their name and email address.
This way, you’ll have everything you need for a personalized follow-up (more on this next).
Invest in some business cards of your own to hand out to potential employers (and fellow attendees) that you speak to at the fair. This is especially useful if the recruiter is, although unlikely, unable to accept your résumé for whatever reason.
10. Follow up
Once the fair is over and you’re back home, the immediate next step is to sit down at your computer and start sending out personalized “thank you” emails to all the recruiters you met — even if you’re ultimately not interested in their company. (If you can’t send out the emails straight away, that’s okay — as long as you don’t wait any longer than 48 hours after the fair.)
Your email should, first and foremost, thank the recruiter for taking the time (no matter how little) to meet with you and reiterate your interest in the company. Try to work in new something that was discussed in the interview, too, as this will help you stand out more. Meanwhile, if you have any follow-up questions, this is the perfect opportunity to ask them.
Don’t just follow up with recruiters. Send an email to any fellow attendees you met, too, and connect with them on LinkedIn. You could perhaps share an article you read that you think they might find interesting with them, or even arrange a coffee meeting.
To sum up, here’s everything you need to keep in mind when attending a career fair:
- Find out which companies have registered to attend the fair, and research the ones that interest you. Prepare a few talking points for your interview with each one and develop a tailored résumé for each company that you approach.
- Arrive at the career fair as early as possible so you get a head-start over the competition, and dress professionally.
- Ask well-thought-out and interesting questions during your interview and take notes of any important information you learn about the company.
- Engage with other attendees so you can start building your own professional network.
- Don’t leave the fair without employers’ contact information, and make sure to follow up with a personalized email for each one.
Got a question about attending a career fair, or want to share your own tried-and-tested tips with us? Let us know in the comments section below.