If the thought of a hotel ballroom filled with professionals all vying for a limited number of jobs leaves you shaking in your shoes, you’re not alone. Career fairs can be nerve wracking, particularly because we spend so much of our lives behind screens today.
But attending a career fair is actually an incredible opportunity to make an impression that emailing your résumé or applying for a job through a web portal just can’t offer.
Here are several tips on getting the most out of your career fair experience from Collabera’s Corporate Recruitment Manager Callie Golden.
What is a career fair?
Career fairs are a way for job hunters to explore opportunities with multiple potential employers in a single setting. They’re also a fantastic way for companies to get a feel for the existing job market or talent pool, and size up the incoming workforce.
During a job fair, attendees can practice their interviewing skills and talk to recruiters from the companies participating in the event. They can learn about career opportunities in their field, or maybe even learn about jobs they didn’t know they were interested in.
Some companies may even offer job interviews in the moment for promising candidates!
Preparing for a career fair
Get ready for your job fair experience in the same way you would a job interview: Do your homework!
“Research the companies that will be there,” Golden said. “Have in mind the types of roles you’re interested in — then find out where those opportunities might be and be strategic.”
Most participating companies have to specify the types of professionals they’re looking for — the college majors they’re interested in, or the relevant experience they’re seeking. Set your sights on a few big targets, but keep an open mind, too!
“Be open to other opportunities, and don’t be afraid to ask companies you’re interested in if they have opportunities that suit your skills,” Golden said.
What to wear to a career fair
On the day of the career fair, dress sharp. (You know the old saying: “Dress for the job you want, not for the one you have.”)
Even if you don’t have a suit, wear your nicest office-appropriate outfit. Be sure every component of your ensemble is neatly pressed, and wear a pair of cushioned shoes you can walk in. You never know what type of flooring you’ll encounter at a career fair, and grimacing with every step doesn’t scream, “Hire me!”
Choose accessories that make a subtle statement, like a favorite pair of earrings or set of cufflinks.
Finally, skip any product with a strong fragrance, even if it’s your “signature scent.” Heavy perfume and cologne can be off-putting, especially in a huge room full of other people trying to rock their own power aromas.
What should I bring to a career fair?
Streamline what you’re carrying while you pound the pavement, so to speak, at a career fair. You want to remain light on your feet and stay focused on meeting recruiters who could offer you your next big job move! Here’s what to pack that day:
- Your resume. Update your résumé or CV with all the most recent information, then print 15–20 copies of the document onto a high-quality paper stock.
- Business cards. If you have them, simple business cards that show a little of your personality can be a great way for recruiters to hang on to your contact information after the career fair. Consider designing cards with a pop of color to stand out in the pile of information they’ve gathered over the course of the day!
- Something to carry your materials. A large handbag, briefcase, stylish leather tote, or messenger bag is a great pick to hold your résumés and business cards, as well as any materials from businesses you’re interested in following up with. Even a manila envelope or file folder will do. Bottom line: Ensure that your hands are free for meeting and greeting!
- A few personal items. It never hurts to stash a pack of gum or tin of mints in your jacket pocket or handbag, as well as a travel pack of tissues and a hand mirror to double check your appearance between chats with recruiters. If you’ve got room, a bottle of water never hurts. These can be long days — take care of yourself, and stay hydrated!
- Confidence. More than an impressive résumé or top-of-your-class GPA, companies are looking for rock-solid confidence in job candidates — even for entry-level hires. Make eye contact, smile, and rock that firm handshake if you really want to knock a recruiter’s socks off.
How do I stand out at a career fair?
On-the-job experience, college and post-graduate degrees, GPA, and other typical signifiers of a good hire are a standard for career fairs. And in today’s tough job market, you’ll face stiff competition if you’re hoping to compete on those measurable qualities alone.
So how do you stand out?
It’s all about those intangible qualities, Golden says — your “je ne sais quoi,” as the French say.
- Presence. Are you well put together? Everything from your handshake and eye contact to your posture and the way you speak, your presence speaks volumes about you. “Walk with a purpose,” Golden said.
- Drive. It’s easy to spot a “hungry” candidate. Before you enter the room, decide what’s pushing you to be there besides collecting a paycheck every two weeks. “We’ve hired people to work in sales who come from molecular biology majors,” Golden said. “When we sit down and talk to candidates, we’re looking deeper into their background to find out what is pushing them.”
- Positivity. How do you talk about your previous jobs and former managers? What about your college experience, or other organizations and figures in your field? Diplomacy and positivity are fantastic qualities for all employees, even if they aren’t in directly client-facing positions.
- Authenticity. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You spend most of your waking hours at work, so it makes sense to show employers who you are from the very beginning, so you can be happy and comfortable in your role..
At the end of the day, we’re hiring people — we want to find people who fit in with our culture,” Golden said.
Take a deep breath
Career fairs can feel daunting, but in the end, you’re in the room for the opportunity to meet with folks eager to get to know you — they’re hunting just as hard for their next hire as you are your next gig.
So take a deep breath and embrace this chance for a little human interaction in the digital age!
If you’ve been rehearsing an “elevator pitch” during your career-fair preparations, be sure you’re getting into the right elevator car before launching into that pitch.
“An elevator pitch gives you relevant talking points you can share if you’re asked — but until then, just be genuine and remember you’re talking to people!” Golden said. “We’re nice. We just want to meet other normal humans.”