How To Start A Conversation At A Career Fair

By Chris Kolmar - May. 4, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

If you are in the market for a job, odds are you have considered attending a career fair. They can be great opportunities to gain exposure to different companies and to practice your interviewing skills.

However, they can also be intimidating, given that you have to make so many good first impressions in such a short amount of time. It feels like the pressure is on you to act as perfectly as you can.

It can also be a bit awkward having to explain your career to complete strangers. To help alleviate the anxiety that goes with career fairs, here is a list of things you can do before and during a job fair that will ensure you make the most of this opportunity.

What Is a Career Fair?

A career fair is the ultimate networking opportunity, designed to bring together those looking for a job and companies looking for interesting people to fill their positions.

Career fairs are a place where you can meet with several hiring employers at once, and they can be the perfect opportunity to get your foot in the door.

How to Prepare for a Career Fair

Preparation is key when it comes to job fairs. It can help you feel like you are going in blind, but it can also help you appear more professional and confident when speaking with potential employers. Follow this list to make sure you go into the job fair as ready as you can be.

  • Pre-register, if you can. Many career fairs will have the option to pre-register. This usually entails sending in your resume, so companies have a chance to review it before the career fair actually begins. This helps the company get to know you before meeting you in person and informs them of what talent they can expect to see at the fair.

  • Research the companies attending. Once you have registered, take a look at the companies that will be attending the fair. Make a list of those you want to visit, those you would be interested in learning more about, and those that you will visit only if you have extra time.

    A quick search of the internet can tell you what kind of work these companies do and in what industry. But try delving a little deeper. Try looking at their website and social media accounts to find important information about the company’s culture and the work they do.

    Learn about their current state of affairs. Have they just acquired a new addition or opened a new branch? Are they growing and hiring new employees? What are some of their most recent notable accomplishments? What problems have they had to overcome? How well have they overcome them?

    If the company has a website, which most will, take a look at their careers page and see what positions they are looking to fill.

    Use this information to develop questions, which can then be used to start conversations at the career fair itself.

    Asking about the company’s recent opening of a new branch will not only help get a conversation going, but it also gives off the impression that you are well-researched, interested in the company, and serious about finding out whether they will be a good fit for you.

    All of these things help you stand out and put you high on the list of people they will consider hiring.

  • Prepare your resume. Print several copies of your resume even if you have pre-registered. It never hurts to have your resume handy for anyone who is interested in learning more about you. Make sure they are presentable copies kept neatly in a folder, and make sure they are updated with accurate information.

  • Practice your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a two to three sentence pitch that is designed so that you could give it to a stranger during an elevator ride, and they would leave with a decent understanding of who you are and what you do.

    Since a career fair means introducing yourself to many strangers, an elevator pitch is a great way to explain yourself and what sort of employment you are looking for.

    Practice your elevator pitch in the mirror until you have it memorized and refined.

  • Prep for potential interview questions. Career fairs are full of interviews, even if they are more casual ones. You still need to be prepared for questions regarding your past work experience, your skills and education, and your qualifications.

    Research commonly asked interview questions and prepare answers for them. Even if you don’t have your answers memorized, being able to go through the questions before the big day allows you to mull them over and come up with better answers than if you were coming up with them on the spot.

  • Be ready to take notes. Bring a pen and pad of paper with you. The odds are that you will be meeting with several people in a short amount of time, so it would be wise to keep notes and markdown information that you would like to remember.

    Take note of how companies made you feel, especially as this can be hard to remember once you have met with a dozen or more of them. This would also be a great place to keep your notes on the companies themselves.

How to Start a Conversation at a Career Fair

The day has finally come, and you have properly prepared. Now comes the difficult step of actually beginning a conversation with the companies you have researched, which can feel a bit awkward. Here are a few ways you can get the ball rolling.

  • Introduce yourself with a smile. Start off by making a good first impression. Shake hands, introduce yourself, and smile. Looking as though you are excited to hear more about this company and the opportunities they are offering will get you a much warmer welcome than if you appear aloof and uninterested.

    Deliver your elevator pitch, so they can learn a bit about who you are and what you do.

  • Ask questions you developed while doing your research. Once you have introduced yourself, the best way to get the conversation started is by asking questions. Try using the research you conducted to develop questions to ask.

    For example, suppose in your research you find that the company has recently acquired another company. In that case, you can ask something like this

    “I understand you have just merged with Company X. What would you say has been the most challenging part of the transition? What was the most rewarding?”

  • Ask questions about the jobs they are hiring for. Even if you already know about these positions, asking about the jobs they have available can be a segway into talking about you and your experiences. Ask about the specifics.

    For example, you can ask them to describe what the average day may look like for one of the positions they are looking to fill. Then, once they have described the positions main responsibilities, you can go on to explain how you would be a great fit for this position because of X, Y, and Z.

  • Ask open-ended questions. Asking questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” to answer gives you the opportunity to gather more information about the company and opens up the conversation to a wider variety of topics. Be sure to stay focused on the topic at hand, which should be the job, the company, and your potential fit.

  • Ask questions about the hiring process. The main purpose of a career fair is to put you in the running for a position. You can absolutely ask questions about the hiring process and what the next steps might look like.

  • Ask about the company’s culture. It is just as important to fit into a company’s culture as it is to fit into a job’s requirements. You could have all the necessary experience and skills, but if the company’s culture clashes with your own, odds are it won’t be a good fit.

    Ask questions about communication and how teams stay connected with one another. You could ask about how employees interact with one another, how management gives and takes feedback. You can also ask something more general, such as “What kind of person is most successful at this company?”

  • Offer them your resume. Even if they already have a copy from the pre-registration phase, giving them a reminder of your experience and skills is another good way to get a conversation going. Allow them time to look over it and then answer any questions that they may have.

  • Ask for their business card. After the conversation is winding down, ask them for a business card. This gives you the contact information of someone at the company, which you can thank for their time after the fair has ended, as well as someone you can contact if any questions arise.

Final Thoughts

Even if this isn’t your first time at a job fair, they can be intimidating. However, with the proper preparation, you can be sure that you leave the career fair with many new and exciting job opportunities on your horizon.

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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