Preparing for Career Fairs

Standing out in a positive way isn’t always an easy task, especially when you’re competing with your peers for a small amount of a recruiter’s attention. However, what makes it possible is showing up prepared, confident to face the day, and knowing what it takes to distinguish yourself from the crowd.

Preparing for a Career Fair

Preparing for career fairs borrows much of the guidelines from preparing for interviews or a career conversation. 

  1. Find out who will be there: Review the employers who will be attending and draft a prioritized list of the ones you match well with. It’s possible that you may run out of time to meet everyone, but you can make sure to have talked with the most important ones.
  2. Do your research: Even though a career fair is a good opportunity to learn about companies, employers appreciate students with prior knowledge about the company. Do some research about your top-priority companies and be prepared to tailor your conversations to what you know about them.
  3. Choose what to bring with you: If you are attending an in-person fair, you don’t need to bring much to the career fair with you as you want to be able to easily navigate across the space, have your hands free when shaking hands with a recruiter/employer, and maintain a composed look. All you will need is a small purse or simply a folder to hold your resumes (at least 20 copies) and any other information you may want to store, such as paper for notes or business cards. There isn’t usually a place to store your backpack during the fair, so plan ahead.

  4. Dress for success and comfort: Review any clothing requirements that may be part of the fair. Otherwise, opt for business professional or business casual clothes with comfortable shoes. You may be walking or standing for a long time if you are attending an in-person fair. Make sure you dress professionally at least from the waist-up for a virtual fair.

  5. Prepare a few talking points: The employers that you meet with want to learn more about you. Create and practice a short overview of your background, studies and career goals. This is often called an “elevator pitch.” Read more about it in our Networking Resources!

  6. Practice: Practice your pitch, answers to common interview questions and mannerisms with a friend or family member. This will help you to be comfortable and polished when it’s time to introduce yourself to a recruiter. Remember NOT to memorize your answers, as this will make you sound robotic. 

  7. Prepare questions for the interviewer: Write down the most important questions you want to ask each employer you plan to meet. Don’t ask basic questions like, "What does your company do?" Instead, show the employers the depth of your research and use the opportunity to ask some deeper questions. Here is a sample list of questions that you could borrow from: Questions to Ask an Interviewer

On the Day of the Fair

You have spent time preparing yourself and now it’s time to translate all that effort into practice. Remember, whether you are attending a virtual fair or in-person, these tips can be adapted to either situation to help you be successful.

  • Don’t be shy: As you visit each booth, be friendly and confident. Make sure to have your resume ready in case the recruiter asks for it. Introduce yourself with a smile, eye contact, and a brief, firm handshake. However, recognize that in this unique environment with the pandemic, recruiters may not shake hands due to safety precautions. This is true for virtual fairs too! Make sure you arrive on time for your scheduled sessions, use positive body language and look into the camera.
  • Be prepared with your pitch: The recruiter/employer will most likely start the conversation and ask you questions. However, if the employer does not begin the conversation immediately, share your elevator pitch to get the conversation started. To get the most out of the opportunity, make sure you concisely communicate your interest in the company and how your skills and qualifications make you a strong fit for the position you’re interested in.
  • Be mindful of how you communicate: It’s common to be nervous when meeting with employers, so be aware of what your body language says and practice your conversational skills. For example, try to maintain eye contact, smile, be enthusiastic and have a positive attitude. Practice actively listening to the recruiter and take turns during the conversation. With the pandemic still going on, be respectful of the recruiter’s space. Recruiters are taking note of your interaction and their overall impression of you as a potential candidate.
  • Get your resume in their hands: Don’t wait until the end of the conversation to hand them your resume, as they might get interrupted or may move on immediately after. Instead, hand them your resume as you speak while pointing out relevant talking points to ensure they look at your resume. If you’re attending a virtual fair, make sure your resume is on your profile and set to “public.”
  • Wrap the conversation well: As the conversation comes to a close, make sure to thank the person for their time and the opportunity. Remember to request a way to contact them. Whether it be a business card or an email, it’s imperative you have some way to remember them and contact them later.

Resources to Make the Most of the Fair

Making a Positive First Impression

Think of your chats with employers at career fairs as mini-interviews. Check out our Interview Guide and Professional Clothing Guide for more tips on how to be successful at a career fair and make the best impression you can:

Follow Up After the Fair

Make it your goal to follow up with each employer you met with within 24-48 hours after the fair. Many recruiters go to multiple career fairs in a week so it’s important to follow up with them to thank them for their time and remind them who you are. Learn more about the tactics involved in communicating professionally through our professional correspondence guide. Our “thank you” template can be easily adapted to use for following up after a fair.