Firms and organizations attend career fairs to generate interest in openings at their company. They recruit for internships, summer jobs, post-graduate positions, and other initiatives. Because they come to the student’s domain, you are able to take advantage of their presence by engaging, showing a positive and professional demeanor, strategizing about the desired results, and being a go-getter.

Students may be nervous at their first career fair, not knowing what to expect. Have I prepared enough? Am I going to be judged? How can I make a good impression?

A career fair can drain a person’s energy – talking to complete strangers, feeling vulnerable, making preparations – but ultimately it will energize a student in the long-term. They are getting points for bravery for speaking to multiple employers within a short period of time. They are also becoming more resilient and honing their people skills. 

2018 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that

  • Employers allocated the most funds toward recruiting trips. 
  • Career fairs, corporate websites, and campus information sessions were employers’ top-used and top-ranked branding techniques.
  • Nearly 90 percent of employers had diversity efforts within their recruiting programs.

College job fairs can be crowded and loud events, with hundreds of students or more in attendance. The size of the event or the level of chaos shouldn’t serve to discourage students from focusing on the companies they want to speak to. As the survey demonstrates, employers take career fairs seriously, and many are very open to hiring students with diverse multicultural backgrounds.

A good degree of preparation prior to a career fair, effective engagement with employers at the event, and following up afterwards can help to ensure success. Build confidence by facing doubts head-on and just showing up. Look at these events with an open mind – with the objective of learning – and you are maximizing your potential to take significant steps forward.

Image from ABPA.

Research the companies attending the career fair.

Before the fair, review the online directory of employers and their job opportunities on Handshake. If you don’t have an account, register now – it’s free and a powerful tool for networking, event information, and job searches. Go into your Handshake account and click on the Events tab, then go to the Find Career Fairs tab. 

Spend some time gaining insight on the background of an organization. Look them up on GlassDoor, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and even Wikipedia. Google the employer for recent media coverage and press releases. Visit their website’s About Us page. This research helps with generating focused and specific questions. Research as many of these employers as possible based on your career priorities and interests. 

Learn about their recent successes and challenges. The more you know about an organization and the types of positions they hire for, the better you will come across to the employers at the table. Knowledge and initiative go a long way. Representatives will see that you know the company’s mission, purpose, and clientele, and will be able to tell that you’re a genuinely interested candidate. 

Look online to see if they have any open positions that you can apply for, whether it’s an internship or a full-time position, and then apply. At the fair, let the recruiters know you’ve applied for a position. 

Ask a career advisor to review your resume.

ABPA offers free resume assistance for students who are accepted into the Internship Placement Program!

Contact your institution’s career center and ask about the resume review and/or editing services offered. Fellow members of student clubs or organizations may also be able to lend their assistance for a brief review of your materials. Local libraries frequently offer resume and cover letter workshops. It’s very beneficial to have several eyes on a resume before it goes in front of an employer. 

Dress like a professional.

When a person dresses professionally, it’s one less hurdle they have to overcome. Employers notice details in an applicants’ attire, like scuffed shoes, a wrinkled shirt or tie, an outfit that’s too casual, or inappropriate jewelry.

However, don’t be hesitant about straying from the standard dark suit and white shirt. Add a little personality or color scheme to your professional attire and employers may notice the effort you put in.

Prepare to ask the right questions.

To engage with employers successfully, you should have a series of go-to questions you can use. 

  • “What are some common difficulties that people experience with the job?”

The answer to this question will help determine if your skill set and your personality are a good fit. For example, if the recruiter says one challenge is that most employees find that Company X has a very political and bureaucratic workplace, and you oppose that type of environment, you might not want to work at that company. Demonstrate your skills and provide an example of a time when you overcame a challenge at work.

  • “What’s something that most people don’t know or tend to overlook about your company?”

This question can give more insight into the ‘real’ side of the company. If the representative answers this question by revealing a negative fact, that may be an indicator that you should proceed with caution in your application process. If the representative tells you something interesting or unique about what the company offers, that’s a positive sign. The question will show the recruiter you are curious about the organization. 

  • “May I contact you with further questions? Do you have a business card?”

Ask this as your final question. 

Other questions you can ask:

  • How would you describe a typical day in this position?
  • How does the company measure performance for X position?
  • My major is X, and I applied for X position at your company based on this association. What positions at your company would be a good option for someone with my educational background? Are there any other positions you think might be a good match?
  • What’s the biggest measure of success in the position you’re hiring for?
  • What are the characteristics of your most successful employees?
  • What additional skills, like languages or technical skills, are particularly valuable?
  • What have you seen in your most recent hires that have made them successful?
  • I noticed in the news that your company had [positive development or success]. Here’s what I thought about that:
  • What are some examples of projects that recent hires have worked on?

Arrive at the career fair early.

If you’re not comfortable getting to the fair at its busiest point, then you may want to arrive 10 or 15 minutes beforehand so you can quickly locate the employers you are most interested in. It won’t be as crowded, and they’ll be able to devote more time to you individually. If applicable, return between classes. If you are completely booked with classes, arrange a way with your professor for you to leave class a bit early. Keep in mind that career fairs are typically the busiest during lunch hours. 

Students can share camaraderie with each other while waiting for the career fair to start. Talking to other students can be reassuring and is also an effective and fun way to warm up for the important introductions ahead. 

Create an elevator pitch.

An elevator pitch can be designed to sound and function in similar ways. Cover the basics: current occupation, an explanation of educational background and major, and aspirations to a specific profession. Express who you are, what you’ve done so far, and what brings you to their company’s table — what personal interest you have in their particular company or area of expertise. 

Example:

“Hi, my name is _____. I am a business intelligence analyst with a passion for data visualization tools and working with customers and clients. I help organizations understand their performance and see the big picture to gain insight and drive business planning. I’m very interested in the opportunity to work for a firm [like X] that is known for its innovation and intelligent market strategy.”

Then transition to asking a question or mentioning an interesting fact or recent development about the employer’s organization. If an employer asks where you’re currently working, and you don’t have a job, tell them about your most recent employment and what your main takeaways were from it. 

A Michigan State University Recruiting Trends survey found that many employers felt more comfortable and personable meeting students face-to-face. A relationship can be established which can help you throughout the later stages of the recruiting process.

Keep it formal.

Unless you’re told otherwise, address the person staffing the desk as Mr. or Ms. Make eye contact and be open and direct. Have good posture. Give a firm handshake. You are brave for stepping up and putting yourself in what may feel like a very vulnerable position, and you’re only going to get better as time goes on. 

You will appear more confident if you did the proper research. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable – sell yourself. List two or three things people have complimented you for being excellent at, and then relate those characteristics to the skills the position calls for. 

Take notes when you inquire about next steps and the possibility of discussing the position further at a later time, or if the information you’re hearing is too valuable to forget. 

Note specific on-campus interview dates and projected hiring time ranges that may affect you. Also, keep in mind that certain positions may no longer be available, and others may have just opened. Some representatives attending fairs are there to share their experiences with students and may not be directly involved in the hiring process. 

Follow-up with the recruiter. 

Get the representative’s business card during the career fair. Send them a follow-up email within a day or so of the fair, thanking them for talking with you and answering any questions you had. It’s a good professional gesture and shows you are not only presentable in-person, but are also proficient at email or phone communication.

Thank You Email Template:

“Dear [Interviewer’s Name],

Thank you very much for chatting with me today at the career fair. It was great to learn about the team and position, and I’m very excited about the opportunity to join [Company Name] and help with [Name of Initiative]. Following up on our conversation, I’m interested in learning more about [Interesting thing you learned during conversation]. 

I applied for [Name of Position]. Please let me know if there’s anything else you need from me to move the process forward or if you have additional questions. 

Thank you again and have a great rest of your week. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best Regards,

[Your Name]”

Extra tips:

  • Don’t be discouraged by long lines. Listen to others’ conversations with the employer and get a feel of what the interaction is going to be like once it’s your turn. You can implement what you hear from those instances into your conversation.
  • Collegefeed survey found that “most companies say that they have an on-campus recruiting plan and that is where they focus their sourcing and branding efforts. Many also have dedicated organizations to build relationships on campus.” Companies are trying to make a good impression on you as much as you are trying to make a good impression on them. Keep this in mind as you demonstrate you recognize their authentic “brand.”
  • If you didn’t have time to research a company or if there was a late addition to the career fair, walk to an area away from the crowd and do some quick research on the company prior to engaging.
  • You could meet a genuinely helpful and respected industry figure who you might want to stay connected with. Example: Some career advisors have active social media accounts where they share useful articles and fact sheets about student employment and industry events. You wouldn’t know about that individual – or their useful Twitter account – if you didn’t attend the career fair with an open mind.
  • Show respect and always check with employers before taking materials from their tables. 
  • If you immediately ‘click’ with the employer you are talking to, you may not need to recite your elevator pitch. You can just go with the flow of the conversation.
  • Don’t ask questions that you can find answers to online, like “What kind of positions are you hiring for?” or “What does your organization do?” 
  • Be flexible if you have any trouble memorizing your networking pitch. If you are better at improvising on the spot, then play to your strengths.

Sources:

Agrawal, S. (2014, March 17). How Companies Can Attract the Best College Talent. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2014/03/how-companies-can-attract-the-best-college-talent.

Collamer, N. (2013, February 4). The Perfect Elevator Pitch To Land A Job. Retrieved fromhttps://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/02/04/the-perfect-elevator-pitch-to-land-a-job/#6f18ec6b1b1d.

Gardner, P., & Render, I. Michigan State University. Career Fairs: We love them! We hate them! But can we live without them! Retrieved from http://www.ceri.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/Career-Fairs.pdf.

Olivia Crosby (updated by Elka Torpey), “Employment interviewing: Seizing the opportunity and the job,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2016.

“Prepare for the Fair: Eight Best Practices for Career Fair Success.” National Association of Colleges and Employers, www.naceweb.org/talent-acquisition/best-practices/prepare-for-the-fair-eight-best-practices-for-career-fair-success/.

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