Preparing for a Career Fair

The relaxed and friendly "open house" format of a career fair makes it easy to explore career options, develop a network of career contacts, identify job openings, and even land an interview in a short amount of time. Below are quick tips designed to maximize your success. Many tips are written with in-person career fairs in mind, but they apply just as well to virtual career fair formats.

Clarify Your Goals

What do you hope to get out of the career fair: Information about employers? A chance to meet a representative from a particular company? An overview of the job market? Make sure your expectations are consistent with the purpose of the event.

Research Companies in Advance

Review the list of attending employers. Identify those that are looking for candidates with your qualifications. Write down a few questions about the organization that you can ask the representative. On the day of the career fair, pick up additional material, find a quiet corner, and study it in more detail.

Prepare a One-Minute Introduction

In addition to stating your name, school, major, and the type of position you seek, you should express why you are interested in the organization or field. Briefly relate your background to what you know about the employer's needs. Practice your introduction until you feel comfortable with it. This will make you feel and appear more confident, organized, and focused.

Bring Your Resume

Make sure you have enough copies of your resume; between 20 and 30 is usually sufficient. Be sure to include your phone number and e-mail address on your resume.

During the Event, Prioritize Your Time

Take a few minutes before you enter the room to review the list of attending companies. Highlight and prioritize those you are most interested in so you can organize your time efficiently. Instead of standing in line to talk to a particular employer, circulate and come back later.

First Impressions Are Lasting Impressions

Dress and act professionally. Wear what makes you feel confident. Walk confidently with good posture. Make direct eye contact and shake hands firmly.

Market Yourself

Consider the Career Fair as "round one" of a job interview. Show interest and enthusiasm by smiling and speaking clearly. Have a positive greeting: "Hello, I'm Chris Smith. I'm a management major and will graduate in May. I'm glad to see your company here and would like to ask you about..."

Ask Appropriate Questions

Increase your knowledge of industry trends, job options, career paths, training programs, and other information that can help you make a wise career decision. Answer questions clearly and concisely. There may be many people in line behind you, so you don't want to take up too much time. Concise answers also show that you are well prepared. Save your questions on salary and fringe benefits until the company has expressed a clear interest in you. Ask if they are collecting resumes and business cards because you will want to follow up on interesting leads. Thank them for their time.

Broaden Your Focus

You may miss out on possible opportunities if you pass up an employer because of preconceived ideas. Many technical firms offer non-technical positions, and vice-versa. You'll be surprised how many employers are looking for candidates with a solid liberal arts background, and internship or co-op experience.

Follow Up

Since you have business cards and company information, you can write individualized follow-up letters to appropriate employers, expressing your continuing interest. (Include another copy of your resume.) If you can, mention something you discussed in your conversation at the job fair.