Career Fairs 101
Career fairs can be an opportunity to learn, network, and develop leads for a job. But if you don’t come prepared, you’ll waste time, ask the wrong questions, and make several bad impressions.
Learning what to do at a career fair can help. By knowing what’s expected of you, you’ll be able to find, prepare, and perform at any job fair.
How To Find Job Fairs in Your Area
Businesses are always recruiting students and graduates from nearby colleges, and colleges are equally eager to help their students to find employment. Colleges set up career centers precisely for that reason. There are a few ways to keep an eye out for job fairs in your area and make sure that attending them is a productive event:
- Visit your college career center.
Career centers are the go-to place to find out about upcoming job fairs in area, and where you can register for events with limited space. Additionally, you can get information about which businesses will be in attendance. A job fair won’t do you any good if nobody you want to meet is coming.
- Sign up for local industry newsletters.
Many job fairs are hosted on college campuses, and many aren’t. Industry groups are known to host job fairs in hotels, city centers, or anywhere else they can find to stuff a few hundred people. Anywhere there’s a major city, you’ll find a job fair not far behind. Depending on your industry and location, look to email newsletters for professional organizations in your area and sign up for social media alerts.
- Use Google search.
A quick Google search for job fairs in your area will let you know what dates to mark on your calendar. As part of your preparation, check out the rest of our Career Planning Resources to make sure your career is on track.
- Research people and companies you admire and connect via LinkedIn.
If you have a list of a few companies you’d like to work for, you can try a more direct approach. Instead of looking through listings of job fairs and hoping the right people attend, research the businesses that interest you to find out where they send recruiters. A short message on LinkedIn may be all you need to find out everything you need to know about their hiring process.
How to Prepare for a Job Fair
Attending a career fair is like attending an interview. Preparation pays off, and first impressions matter.
Before you attend a career fair, brush up on your job fair etiquette, polish up your resume, and strategically make use of your time to put your best (and most professional) face forward.
- Have a short list of companies you want to meet with.
To make the most of your time, be sure to prioritize among the companies you want to engage with. Avoid wasting time on companies that don’t interest you, but don’t ignore a company just because they’re not recruiting in your field. You can set yourself up for a job in the future by making a connection with their recruiter, or finding out the name of a hiring manager for your field.
- Network the right way.
People forget that career fairs are a networking opportunity. Meeting recruiters is great, but meeting others working around your industry can be just as valuable for building your career. You bring your resume for recruiters, and for everyone else you bring a business card. A stack of business cards can be printed for only a few dollars. On the card, include your contact information and a short description of who you are. If you don’t have a job title, use a broad description like “writer” or “accountant.”
- Do your homework beforehand.
One common mistake to avoid is using a job fair to learn about the basics, like what a company does. You can find out basic information about a company online, but what questions can’t you answer? Doing your homework allows you to ask more involved questions, and receive more valuable answers. Having specific questions for each recruiter also signals that your interest is serious, and helps make a strong impression.
- Dress for the job you want.
Like an interview, dressing professionally is an important part of making a first impression. But job fairs are often cramped with dozens or hundreds of people, and you’ll likely be on your feet for several hours. Don’t show up in your warmest jacket and least comfortable shoes. Do prepare an outfit the night before. A last minute scramble to find an outfit could sabotage all your other efforts if you can’t find anything appropriate.
- Update your resume -- or better yet, tailor different versions for different companies.
Unlike an interview, you’ll want to bring a small stack of resumes. If you’re talking to a number of different companies, you may want to tailor your resume to the specific business you’re interested in. You may find yourself bringing multiple copies of multiple resumes. One resume may highlight your interpersonal skills and volunteer experience, and another may highlight your academic achievement and leadership.
What to do at a Career Fair
Career fair recruiters see countless people come and go, so you need to be ready to make a solid first impression. Rather than wandering around aimlessly and winging it, set yourself up for success and build your confidence by preparing for a job fair the way you would a one-on-one job interview.
- Practice a one-minute pitch about yourself.
Prepare to introduce yourself by writing a one-minute pitch that emphasizes your skills, interests, and goals. Be prepared to talk about your skills and experiences because they’re the target of most interview questions. And have a handful of questions you want to ask that show you’re informed.
- Ask the right questions of prospective employers.
Asking questions is engaging, it shows interest, and it can help you learn something valuable about the company you want to work with. What does the recruiter like about working there? What’s the process for integrating new employees? Any question about the company’s culture is a good bet. But don’t ask questions you should already know with a quick sweep through a company’s website or a person’s LinkedIn profile. The right questions can help you figure out if the job is right for you, and the wrong questions will signal to the recruiter that you seem lost.
- Be polite -- and ask for a business card before ending the conversation.
Building rapport is important, but not at the expense of being rude. Other people will want the attention of recruiters, so don’t monopolize their time. Introduce yourself, engage with Q&A, and then collect a business card before excusing yourself. Don’t skip that last step because you’ll need contact information to follow up after the job fair. After a hectic day full of meeting new people, a follow-up note can help remind a recruiter of your meeting. If you're having trouble getting out of the conversation, a simple "Thank you for your time. It was nice to meet you" followed by a firm handshake makes it clear to both parties.
Keep in mind that recruiters are literally there to meet people, so don’t feel awkward about approaching them about work. If you sneak your resume onto someone’s desk and slip away, you’re wasting an opportunity to network, and half of the value of a job fair is that it's basically a mini guaranteed interview. In addition to bringing resumes and business cards, try to bring a gregarious attitude or risk getting lost in the crowd.