10 Tips for Making the Most of Career Fairs

A guide to help you make the best use of a classic job-seeking resource.

Maddie Lloydby Maddie LloydGet The Job, Guides - 5 months ago

Career fairs might seem like a thing of the past, a caveman’s tool for finding a job that’s totally useless in the modern age of online resources — but that just ain’t true. Career fairs are a goldmine of opportunities to make personal connections with employers and learn about what it’s like to work for them.

Because career fairs are such a great tool for finding a job, they’re bound to attract large crowds — and it’s important to stand out against everyone else. What can you do specifically to compete with the hoards of people who will also be there?

Don’t make the mistake of fading into the gigantic nameless crowd of job-seekers. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of career fairs and to make yourself stand out as a star candidate.

1. Dress for Success to Make a Good Impression

This catchy (yet somewhat annoying) rhyme has been ingrained in our minds since high school. We all know the importance of first impressions, and how you’re dressed is one of the first things people notice about you.

Attend career fairs dressed professionally, like you’re prepared for an interview. If you have tattoos, cover them up — now is not the time to show off how hip and alternative you are. But remember to wear comfortable shoes, because you’ll probably be spending some time standing in lines.

Job fairs are usually pretty large events with big crowds. Dressing for success is a good way to make yourself stand out from the crowd and look like you have your life together — even if you don’t!

2. Practice Your Pitch to Show off Your Qualifications

Take some time before the interview to practice giving an elevator pitch. Make sure to summarize who you are, your skills and experience, and your career goals.

Just saying “hi,” dropping off your resume, and running off to the next employer isn’t going to make anyone remember you. Tell the company representative a story about your career accomplishments and what sets you apart from other candidates. Giving this extra effort is what will make you stick out to employers.

3. Come Prepared for Battle

Arrive to the career fair ready for war. Bring a portfolio with copies of your resume, a list of references, and samples of your best work. Make sure to also bring pens, a notepad, and business cards with your name, your email address, and your cell phone number.

Even though job fair interviews tend to be pretty short, it’s always good to be prepared to discuss your portfolio with recruiters.

4. Do Research on the Companies Beforehand

You wouldn’t show up to a job interview clueless about the company or the position (or maybe you would — if so, you need some serious help). Treat the career fair like an interview and do research before you go in.

Many career fairs have information about the participating companies on their website. Research the companies that will be there and narrow down a list of the companies that you’d like to work for.

Be prepared to talk to recruiters about their company’s mission, open positions, and clients they serve. Showing knowledge about companies and the steps you took to learn about them will impress employers and make them remember you.

By doing some research before the career fair, you’ll also be able to ask specific questions about each company. This will show employers that you’re interested in them, which will always leave a good impression — unless you’re being creepy. Don’t be creepy.

5. Make a Schedule

You want to give yourself plenty of time to talk to recruiters, so make sure to arrive as early as possible to avoid the worst of the lines. Before going in, decide which companies you want to connect with and prioritize them.

Even though you want to make sure that you get to introduce yourself to all of the companies on your list, it’s also good to give yourself time to introduce yourself to companies that aren’t on your list that you might be interested in working with — think of these as wild cards. It’s always good to have a wild card.

6. Network with Fellow Job-Seekers

While you’re waiting in one of the many lines you’ll run into at a career fair, talk to the people around you and exchange business cards and personal information — but don’t get too personal, keep it polite and professional.

This isn’t the time to build your next all-star beer pong squad. Career fairs are essentially a gigantic networking opportunity — you never know who could help you in your job search.

Try to collect as many business cards as possible and focus on making good, memorable impressions. Write down notes on the back of the business cards you collect or in your notepad so that you can remember who you talked to about what. When you apply for positions in the future, you can give yourself a leg up by referencing a connection.

7. A Little Enthusiasm Goes a Long Way

One of the most important traits someone can bring to a new job is enthusiasm. Instead of trying to be aloof and mysterious, show your interest in a company by smiling and talking with the company’s recruiter. Let them know that you’re excited for the opportunity and show off your knowledge of their company.

On the other hand, there’s no need to talk about your general job search with company recruiters – they’re not career counselors. Try to stick to talking about your job-related strengths and experiences and what you can bring to the company.

8. Ask Questions About the Company

When researching the companies on your list, come up with questions for the recruiters that show off your general knowledge of their company — employers want to hire people who are genuinely interested in their company. The more you talk to the recruiters and focus on the company, the better impression you’ll leave.

9. Take Notes for Future Reference

Make sure to take notes when you talk to recruiters about next steps and opportunities to talk to other managers. Write down any additional information about the company you may have learned at the career fair that you didn’t find online.

If the recruiter can’t answer all of your questions, write down the information of other staff members at the company who you can contact later. Also make sure to note information sessions, on-campus interviewing dates, and future hiring dates.

You won’t be able to take advantage of these opportunities if you don’t know when or where it’s happening or who to talk to. Help your future self out and write down notes, ya dingus.

10. Get Ready to Answer Questions About Yourself

Many employers begin interviews by saying, “Tell me about yourself.” This is one of the hardest interview questions to mess up, but how you answer it will say a lot about you.

There’s no need to go into your favorite colors or what you think about right before you fall asleep — honestly, no one really cares. Just be prepared to give them your name, a brief statement about your job-related skills, why you’re interested in the position, and what interests you about their company.

Remember to keep your response concise. At a career fair, you don’t have a lot of time to make your impression before it’s time to move onto the next interview. Try to think of it as speed dating for jobs. But seriously – don’t get creepy.

Things to Remember Before Going to a Career Fair

As a rule of thumb, always send a follow up email to the company representatives you meet at career fairs. Sending thank you notes is a good professional habit and also reiterates your interest in the position. A brief thank you note will acknowledge that the company representatives helped you and remind them that you’re a strong candidate.

Career fairs are all about being personal and memorable — it’s a great way to meet face-to-face with the company, and can potentially get you further than just applying online. They’re also a great way to learn about new companies, gather information, get career advice, and network with others who are also on the hunt for a job.

If you attend a career fair well prepared and with an open mind, you might just find your next job offer (or three)!

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