What to Do at a Career Fair to Get an Interview

Confused How to Maximize a Career Fair? Let Expertise Help You!

Written by Jason

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Last updated Feb 28, 2024 | Published on Apr 30, 2023

You may have seen fliers around campus promoting the latest career fair or heard the nice person in the career services office at your college or university say, “Do not forget to attend the career fair next week!”

But how do career fairs work, exactly? What is a career fair like? Is it different from a job fair? You may have a lot of questions before attending, so we will break it down so you know exactly what to expect. The last thing you want is to go into a job or career fair blindly — just like you would never want to go into a job interview unprepared. 

We will look at a roundup of the different types of career fairs, examine who and what you might encounter in a job or career fair and what to do at a career fair to get an interview.

Always Have a Game Plan  to Maximize Career Fairs

Types of Career Fairs

There are two main types of career fairs: college campus career fairs and career fairs sponsored by organizations. 

College Campus Career Fairs

The career services department  at your college organizes career fairs. They recruit employers to stand at tables so you can meet potential employers. They typically host career fairs in the spring so prospective students can find jobs right after the spring term ends. Colleges and universities may host career fairs for individual colleges, such as the engineering college or business college. Career fairs offer students a great opportunity to meet with representatives of companies they may want to work for after graduation. 

Professional Organization Career Fairs

Professional organizations may also host career fairs because they want to find individuals in their respective field. For example, a major company might host a career fair to recruit new talent. They may even look for specific individuals in specific demographics, such as minorities or women. 

What is a Career Fair Like?

Have you ever been to a college fair, where colleges and universities leave brochures out and you walk around and talk to representatives from each college or university? If you picture that setting, it is similar to what you will encounter at a career fair. However, as you can imagine, career fairs differ quite a bit from college fairs in that they have a much more professional air. 

However, you may have also heard of virtual career fairs, which are held online. This article will focus on in-person career fairs. 

Career Launch Faster by Learning What to Do at a Career Fair

So, what happens at a job fair? Each registered employee gets a booth or table and they stand behind the booth to talk to students (sometimes alumni) who will submit an application for a role. There is usually a mixture of large Fortune 500 companies to impressie regional companies. You will likely get a map prior to the fair so you know the lay of the land and so you can target your desired companies right away. 

How does a job fair work? You may have to wait in line in order to gain access to the room that hosts the fair and also stand in line to wait to talk to popular companies. Therefore, you may have a limited amount of time to talk to each representative because of the number of students they have to talk to during the allotted amount of time for the fair. It gives you enough time to give the rep your elevator speech (we will go over that in a bit!), leave a great first impression, and share your résumé. 

Employers may ask you to take extra action after the fair, like submit your résumé or talk with another individual.

Many career fairs use an app or web-based tool like Handshake to share information about each employer so you know the employers needs prior to the fair. 

Is a Job Fair Different from a Career Fair? 

People often use the words “job fair” and “career fair” interchangeably. Career fairs offer a networking opportunity for enticing prospects to work in a specific industry, including people who work in a specific industry. You may encounter employers who plan to hire in months, rather than right away. In the case of a job fair, there are more immediate job leads or even offers given to individuals who show up. They usually have a more immediate hiring need. Note, however, that some colleges and universities will call a career fair a “job fair” and a job fair a “career fair.”

What to Bring to a Career Fair

Going to a career fair is not a matter of rolling out of bed and pulling something on. Instead, you have to bring a few things with you to a career fair. 

A Checklist Will Keep Your Career Fairs Goals on Track

Consider bringing the following items:

    • General copies of your résumé: Bring general copies of your résumé with you. It should be a clean, sparkling copy of all your best attributes. Put your work experience, academic background, and skillset on the résumé. 
    • Resumes targeted to companies: Take some time to tailor a résumé to a company you have in your sights. For example, if you know you want to work for Company X, ensure that everything you put on the résumé fits the job description listed on Handshake or other sources such as LinkedIn jobs. You can target your skills and experience to meet that recruiter’s requirements.
  • Business cards: Do you have branded business cards? If so, put your mission statement, description, and contact information on your cards. Put your logo on them and coordinate that logo with your LinkedIn profile and résumé.
    • Professional portfolio: If you have a professional portfolio, bring it to the career fair with you. For example, if you have a marketing plan for a local business and you are looking for a marketing job, it can show your project-planning skills. Put pieces in your portfolio that highlight experiences relevant to your career goals.   
    • Change of clothes: Wondering what to wear to a job fair? It is a great idea to dress one step up from the type of job you want. For example, if you know that a company has a business casual environment, wear a suit. If you know it’s casual, dress business casual. However, if you want to be one hundred percent dressed for the part, wear business professional clothing. Also, bring an extra change of clothes in case you get a jelly donut on your collar or coffee on your jacket. Preparation is key!
  • Your elevator speech: What is an elevator speech? An elevator speech is a succinct way to introduce yourself quickly to an employment prospect. Remember how we mentioned that you might only have two minutes to come up with an introduction to yourself and your brand? Your elevator speech gets the job done. In your elevator speech, you want to introduce yourself and your goals to make a great impression. Time your pitch — it should last no more than sixty seconds.

How to Attend a Career Fair

Prior to the career fair, look at the list of companies that will be there. Do your research to know exactly which companies will fit your objectives, gather your materials, dress professionally, shake hands, give them a résumé, leave a great impression, and follow up.

First Impressions Matter at Career Fairs

1. Learn About the Companies

Who will be there? You want to go into the career fair with a game plan — think of it like Halloween when you were a kid. You wanted to hit the “best houses” first and then hit the rest of them later. Hit the top choices first! 

Learning about the companies ahead of time will also help you impress a prospective employer. For example, if you know how a particular company markets a product, you might offer an interesting angle of conversation. Do as much as you can to learn about companies prior to arrival.

2. Put Together a Folder

Leave your backpack in your dorm room — you make a better impression without it. Keep your hands free for handshaking.  Invest a professional padfolio or carry a black folder or other thin binder that carries about twenty copies of your résumé. Throw in a notepad and pen for taking notes and throw in as many business cards as well.

3. Consider Comfort

Instead of shoes that pinch, put on shoes that look good and are comfortable. You might walk around for a long time, talking to various employers! Also consider the weather and dress conservatively. You don’t want to be overdressed and sweaty when shaking hands with potential employers.

4. Be Outgoing

Even if you are a natural introvert, you have got to be friendly and confident. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and eye contact. Maybe even more importantly, do not forget to smile! If you’re a little nervous, you may forget this small (but valuable!) piece of wisdom. 

The lead recruiter will often start the conversation, but be ready with that awesome elevator pitch. Do not monopolize the conversation, but do not rush through it, either. Speak slowly and clearly and do your best to highlight why you are a great candidate.

5. Offer Your Résumé Right Away

Do not wait till the end of the interview to give the recruiter your resume. Get it in their hands immediately. You never know how much time you have to chat, so you want to make sure you stand out immediately. You can also help base your conversation on your résumé to help the recruiter guide the conversation.

6. Ask Great Questions

You likely have great questions you want to ask, so do not forget to squeeze them in before you leave. Asking industry-relevant questions will help you stand out in a crowded field, many students of whom may not have done their research. Most importantly, ask pointed questions about your next steps. You want to be really clear about what you need to do to get to the next stage. 

7. Jot Down Notes Immediately

It does not create a bad impression to make some notes while you are speaking with a recruiter. You may speak with over twenty recruiters if you have a great game plan for the career fair, especially as some companies may have a couple of employees at the table. Taking notes can communicate  interest and will help you craft a standout thank you note we will talk about later in the blog. Maybe Google is looking for marketing positions right now or the Apple recruiter is an alum.  These are important details that can be easily forgotten days or weeks after the career fair. 

8. Request a Business Card

Do not forget to get a business card from the employer. Wrap up the conversation with another solid handshake and thank them for their time. If they do not offer you a business card right away, ask them politely for one and do not  forget to use it by following up. do not forget to return the favor by offering your business card as well. This little detail might be easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of the career fair.

9. Scan the Room

Did you visit everyone in the room that you should have? Check it twice. You do not want to overlook a great company just because you thought you should go to the “popular” company tables. Sometimes it is best to visit every table so you do not miss out on opportunities (as time permits and after you visit the companies on your priority list, that is). Your college’s career center can help you identify companies under the radar or that you might not know about in your desired major.

How to Take Action After the Career Fair

Do not wait to send a thank-you note. And yes, you should send a thank-you note to everyone you talked to — even if you are not interested in their opportunities right now. You never know where your contacts or future hiring opportunities might shake out. For example, someone working at a mid-level company may go over to a multinational company and want you! Try to personalize each thank-you note as much as possible so they remember you. Offer again to follow up with next steps.

Always Send a Thank You   Note to Recruiters after a Career Fair

You can tailor your communication to each recruiter. For example, if you had a casual conversation with a particular recruiter (at a company you have little interest in) you can send a generic email with one or two talking points you talked about with the recruiter. If you had a much lengthier conversation with a recruiter and they seemed really interested in proceeding with next steps, you can mention more about your conversation and your enthusiasm for a potential interview. 

This second example may merit a thank you card as many potential candidates will not take the time to write a thoughtful card.  We always recommend clients mail thank you cards because they are more distinctive and leave a lasting impression.

Ensure that you create unique messages— do not write generic thank you cards or emails to every single person on your list. The more you can detail your conversation in your follow-up, the more likely they will remember you among the dozens of students that they talked to at the fair.

Make Yourself Known at a Career Fair

You may find it difficult to stand out at a career fair, but the more you find ways to stand out — asking great questions, dressing professionally, following up with a great email, ensuring you have branded yourself well, and handing out business cards — can all help you prepare for the next step in your journey. The most important thing to consider is to be prepared in advance. 

You never know what to expect at a career fair. For example, you might have to wade through a sea of students before a company gets to meet with you. You may be floored by one of the recruiters’ questions, you might get a mini-interview on the spot. You just do not know what you will encounter, so get prepared. 

Always Prepare for Job Opportunties

If you have specific questions about career fair preparation, talk with Campus to Career Crossroads. We can help you prep for a career fair, chat with you about a list of questions to ask, and give you a checklist for your particular career and situation. Career fairs lead to exciting job offers all of the time. We will help ensure that you make it happen.

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