Career fairs can be incredibly daunting. While most college students have some experience with job hunting, attending an event that solely exists for people to walk around and sell themselves to recruiters can be a bit harder to navigate—especially if you’ve never done it before. However, you shouldn’t let that stop you from networking like a pro and landing your dream job.
Mastering a career fair isn’t easy, but with a little preparation, it can be done. To help, we created a guide on what you need to know for every part of the process. Below are 16 steps to making a great impression and landing those interviews. You’ll be on your way to your dream job in no time.
- Prepare your elevator pitch: Most of the people you meet at a career fair will ask you about yourself and what you want to do, so make sure you know what you’re going to say. U.S. News says, “Your response should be under two minutes, extremely focused, and include some general background information, demonstrated leadership, and what you will bring to an organization.” Be sure to practice it several times before you go to make sure it sounds natural when you say it out loud.
- Put together a professional outfit (that you’ll be comfortable in): Yes, you need to look polished to make a good impression, but you also don’t want to be too hot or in pain after 30 minutes, either. Choose a simple outfit that you’ll feel great in for hours, and of course, wear a comfortable pair of shoes that you won’t be itching to take off as soon as you get there.
- Do your research on companies: Before you go, be sure to get a list of who will be attending the career fair. Not only will this ensure you’re able to get to your top choices before it’s over, but you can research a bit about each company so that you have well-informed talking points to impress recruiters during your conversations.
- Have questions ready: We’re not saying you need to carry around a list and read each one off word for word, but you definitely want to be able to ask potential employers questions that will show your knowledge of their company. Write down questions for each one that will show your enthusiasm for the brand so that just in case you get flustered, you can glance at them before you start your conversation to refresh your memory. But remember: Never ask questions that you can find the answers to online. Business Insider explains you should never say, “‘What kind of positions are you hiring for?’ or ‘What is your organization all about?’ or any other question that can be answered with a quick Google search. Instead, ask recruiters to elaborate on information you’ve learned from your research. Mention something you read online about a new product or a new initiative.” Stand out from the rest of the students by thinking outside the typical questions.
- Attend a workshop: Some schools host seminars to help students navigate career fairs. Find out if your university holds any of these, and sign up for as many as you can. Not only will you get advice, but you may find additional opportunities to network there as well.
- Dust off your résumé: This is where your research of who is attending the fair will come in handy. Yes, you will be trying to impress a number of companies, so it’s probably not possible to tailor your résumé to a bunch of specific job openings just for the fair. However, once you know which places you really want to stand out to, you can make sure that your résumé shows how you would be a great fit for those companies specifically.
- Make business cards: You should collect a business card from everyone you speak to at the fair, and you definitely don’t want to leave all of those people hanging in return. Order a professional-looking set of your own and keep them ready to hand out during the day.
- Get your stuff organized: Have a small folder or purse that will hold everything you need in an organized way and allow you to shake hands with recruiters without anything getting in the way. Make sure to pack your business cards, your portfolio if it’s relevant, any small items you need for touch-ups, a pen and paper for taking notes, and at least 20 copies of your résumé (or more, depending on how many companies will be there).
- Show up early: Lines can get long for career fairs, so get there before it starts. Recruiters get tired, too, so you don’t want to be the last one to talk to them at the end of an exhausting day.
- Network with everyone: Even if you’re not particularly interested in a certain company, introduce yourself to their recruiter. In the real world, every connection is valuable, and you never know what a conversation and an exchange of business cards can lead to down the line.
- Remember your etiquette: This is a professional situation, so treat it as such. Keep a positive attitude, smile at everyone, make eye contact, and use a firm handshake. As U.S. News explains, “These days, success is heavily reliant on interpersonal skills, meaning that having superior manners is more than just a courtesy. It’s good business.”
- Don’t go in a group: Sure, support from friends is nice, but this is about you and your future career. Don’t distract recruiters with fellow students following you at every table.
- Get your résumé in their hands: You spent all that time perfecting it—now make sure the right person receives it. The Muse says, “As you speak about yourself, hand your résumé to the recruiter, and point out the places that substantiate what you’re saying.” Give it to them at the beginning of your meeting to ensure that you don’t miss out on your chance.
- Ask for contact information: If they haven’t already given it to you, request a business card so that you can follow up or send a thank you note later. Plus, the more contacts you have, the better—you never know when a connection can come in handy later.
- Send thank you notes: Once the fair is over, send a thank you email to everyone you met—even if you’re not interested in working at their company. Remember—the people you meet may work somewhere else you love down the line, so making a good impression can end up helping you later. And of course, make sure to personalize your notes to each recruiter you met, because everyone can tell when you’re copying and pasting an email to a bunch of people.
- Take action: Don’t just leave the fair without doing anything to pursue the role you want. Ask each recruiter how to apply for open positions if you weren’t able to find anything online regarding the application process, and submit your application immediately after leaving. And if you love the company but there’s not a job you really want available at the moment, ask the recruiter for an informational interview to ensure you really stand out in their mind.
So you rocked the career fair—good for you! Now, read up on the mistakes you definitely shouldn’t make in that interview you landed.
Featured photo by @katilyn_perry.