Proper preparation is essential to making a positive impression at a career fair.
- Career fairs provide job seekers the chance to connect with numerous employers, recruiters and hiring managers all in one day.
- Job seekers need to properly prepare for a career fair.
- Plan which employers you want to meet with and spend some time researching each one.
- Come prepared with tailored resumes, business cards, an elevator pitch and, if possible, a portfolio of your previous work.
- In addition to preparing answers to potential interview questions, have your own set of questions you want to ask.
When you're searching for a job, a career fair can be a doorway to many opportunities.
Also known as a job fair, career fairs are professional events that connect job seekers with employers, recruiters and hiring managers. Being in front of so many organizations at one time can be an extremely valuable experience for job seekers.
Although online job fairs are becoming more common, career fairs are typically held in person, at educational facilities like college campuses. These events target graduating students and are primarily for entry-level job recruitment. They are the perfect way for job seekers to connect with future employers, learn about available positions and gain in-person experience.
With so much on the line, it is critical to take these events seriously. That's why proper preparation is a must before attending a career fair. You want to prepare the necessary information and materials and educate yourself on what to expect (and what not to expect) so you can stand out from your competition.
1. Understand what employers and recruiters are looking for.
Although your motivation for attending a career fair is to land a job, it is important to understand what employers are looking for and expecting to get out of the event. Most employers at a career fair are looking to fill entry-level positions, which means they likely won't expect you to have a resume full of experience and lengthy work history.
Instead of focusing only on your work history, it is important to be yourself and emphasize your soft skills, as most employers are looking for workers who are a good culture fit and have values that match their company. Chris Chancey, founder and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, said a combination of relevant skills and experience is important, but not as much as cultural fit and soft skills.
"Skills are teachable, but attitude, personality, and soft skills are inbuilt and can make a world of a difference between candidates," Chancey told Business News Daily. "The candidates that stand out the most for me are not only confident but also have an inquisitive mind, strong communication skills and a positive attitude – all qualities that great employers look for."
2. Manage your expectations.
Keep reasonable expectations for what will happen during and after the event. Since every recruiter is unique, companies may have different procedures for how they interact with you.
You may be expected to take part in a short screening, an in-depth interview or something in the middle. Keep in mind that a quick interview doesn't mean a recruiter is uninterested. Just like you are trying to maximize your time at a career fair, recruiters want to make the most of theirs and see multiple candidates.
If a recruiter wants to conduct a full interview or asks you to come back later for one, they are typically looking to hire immediately. However, regardless of how interested a company may seem, you should not expect a job offer at a career fair.
"While some companies have on-the-spot recruitment, do not expect that all companies will do this," said Chancey. "[Don't] fail to follow up with an otherwise great company that only collected your resume and did not offer a job."
Managing your expectations of what a recruiter wants from you is important too. James Westhoff, director of career services at Husson University's Center for Student Success, said to not be upset or alarmed if a recruiter doesn't take your resume.
"Many times, organizations will not take resumes because they don't want more material to carry – don't be put off by this," he said. "The advantage of a career fair is that you can get some face time with a company representative who can tell you more about the organization."
3. Research each prospective company.
Learn ahead of time which employers are going to be at the career fair. Pinpoint which companies you want to target and begin researching them. Employers expect you to come to a career fair with at least a basic knowledge of who they are and what they do. The more research you can gather, the better.
"With the availability of websites, social media profiles, video content and employee review sites, there is no excuse for not finding out about a company's mission, vision, values, culture, management and current projects," said Chancey.
Look for what need or issue the employer faces and what problems your skills can help solve. Consider using LinkedIn to learn about who you will be speaking with directly and mention a shared connection or interest during your interview. Connecting with a recruiter on a personal level can help them to remember you.
4. Prepare your interview materials.
What you bring to a career fair can help you through the interview process and leave a big impression on recruiters, which is why you should never show up empty-handed. First and foremost, prepare and print various versions of your resume, tailored to each company you want to speak with. You can get creative with your additional materials, but make sure each one serves a purpose.
"If possible, go with a list of references and any certificates you may need to support your resume," Chancey said. "It is very impressive when an applicant comes with a portfolio of their work, and even more interesting when it is in the form of a quick video, slideshow or website."
Chancey said it's also important to prepare a one-minute elevator pitch that allows you to quickly market yourself, your strengths and your skills. Practice this pitch until you can confidently present it with ease. You also want to prepare answers to potential interview questions, so you are not caught off guard if a recruiter expects an in-depth interview.
"If you get an interview at a career fair, you'll need to be ready to demonstrate what you know about the company, discuss why you're interested in working for them, and list your individual strengths and weaknesses," said Westhoff. "Be ready to cite examples and share stories with the interviewer about your work experience. These stories should highlight your strengths and the unique attributes you can bring to their organization."
Bring a list of employment history and transcripts for reference, and a pad and pen for taking notes. Westhoff also recommended creating unique business cards that include your contact information, career goals and skills. Present your materials in a professional-looking padfolio.
5. Create a list of questions and talking points.
The interview process is a two-way street. Just as recruiters are interviewing you, you are interviewing them. You can do this by asking questions and covering specific talking points.
"Engage each company and ask really good questions," said Westhoff. "You want to make sure this organization will be a good fit for you as well."
Being inquisitive also lets a recruiter know you are interested in their company and how it operates. Create a list of potential questions you can use to spark a conversation.
Avoid basic questions that make you appear unprepared, like "what does your organization do?" Instead, focus on questions that you cannot find the answers to online. Here are some examples:
- What do you like most about working at your organization?
- What type of growth opportunities are available?
- How would you describe the culture of the organization?
- Do you have any tips for success in this field?
- What elective courses would you recommend I take to best prepare myself for the role?
6. Dress to impress.
On the day of the career fair, dress up. A general guideline is to dress for the job you want to get; however, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Leave your sweatshirts, flashy clothing, flip-flops, shorts and casual wear at home. Westhoff recommends all career fair attendees play it safe and wear business attire.
He said men should wear a business suit and women should wear a professional-looking dress or pantsuit. Shoes should be polished, and hair (including facial hair) should be nicely groomed. Use fragrances sparingly, and cover all tattoos. If you have the option, bring a stain removal pen or a spare set of clothing, just in case something unexpected happens.
7. Create a plan of action.
Career fairs can be busy, fast-paced and overwhelming. Instead of aimlessly wandering around booths in hopes of speaking with them all, you should make a list ranking your high-priority to low-priority companies and develop a plan of action. Get a layout of the employers' booths in advance so you know where each one is. Consider speaking with one or two of your low-priority companies first for practice, and then interview with your high-priority companies.
Speaking with top-priority employers early on can be beneficial because they are more likely to be receptive, as opposed to later in the day. If you are a well-qualified candidate, they may use you as a bar to measure other candidates. Speaking with them early on also guarantees that you won't run out of time and miss them; however, with proper time management, you shouldn't miss any targets on your list.
Chancey said managing your time properly will help you to see more companies and gain more from the career fair.
"In as much as you might be excited about a particular company, do not spend an excessive amount of time in one booth," he said. "You stand to gain more from a job fair when you give an equal amount of effort and time to companies you are most interested in."
When developing your plan of action, go it alone. Westhoff said you should avoid going with a group of friends and visiting companies together. Make your own individual impression and talk to firms one-on-one. This will help you stand out.
8. Plan a follow-up strategy.
Following up with a recruiter is a key element to landing a job after a career fair. Send a brief thank-you note reiterating your interest in the organization and anything unique you may have spoken about. Even if an organization does not have any open positions that match your skills and experience, it is important to build your professional connections and follow up with each recruiter you spoke to. This networking will help you foster professional relationships that may come in handy in the future.
"In the end, job fairs are what you make of them," said Chancey. "They can offer wonderful opportunities to meet with prospective employers and, more importantly, connect with key hiring decision-makers who are a crucial resource for young professionals looking to catapult their careers. Preparation is key to getting the most out of a career fair."