Making the Most of Career Fairs

In elementary school, we visited the fire station, and our parents brought us to work. In high school, it was “Career Day” with guest speakers. Now in college, exploring careers happens at busy “Career Fairs” where you can meet potential employers in-person or virtually. Many colleges host fairs early in the fall semester, and some internship applications open during August with early fall deadlines. So check your school’s event calendar and start preparing early!

Career fairs can be crowded, noisy, and overwhelming. But going in with a plan makes it a more valuable experience than just showing up at the last minute. Here are some tips to get the most out of your next career fair.

Before the Career Fair

  • Find out when and where the fair is taking place, whether in-person or virtual, and follow any registration instructions so you can sign up ahead of time.
  • Thoroughly review the list of who will be participating – including companies, nonprofits, government agencies, and more. Make note of any that catch your interest.
  • For employers you’re interested in, visit their websites to dig deeper. Learn about their mission, values, culture, and open positions. Research will help you determine if an organization seems like a good fit for your skills, interests, and goals.
  • Make a target list of your top 5-10 employers to focus on. For each, write 2-3 notes about why they interest you and what specifically draws you to their work. Having this information handy means you won’t have to scramble to remember details during the fair.
  • Polish your elevator pitch – a short introduction covering the key details of who you are, what you’re seeking, and what you can offer an employer. Practicing this “sales pitch” makes introducing yourself smoother.
  • Update your resume and have it reviewed by your college’s career center to spot any areas to improve. Many centers offer drop-in hours for quick feedback. But schedule an appointment if you want an in-depth critique.
  • Consider bringing along neatly printed or professionally designed “mini resumes” highlighting your qualifications and experiences. These serve as a handy reference you can quickly share as an introduction.
  • Prepare at least 2-3 thoughtful questions for each employer representative that demonstrate your interest in and knowledge of their organization. Asking smart, well-researched questions makes a memorable impression.
  • Give some thought to your attire and dress professionally. You want to look polished and put-together for meeting potential employers.

During the Career Fair

Treat this as a valuable opportunity to make a great impression beyond just your resume. You can learn a lot more about an organization by having a real conversation than you’ll glean from their website.

  • Follow any check-in procedures required when you arrive at the fair. Then use your target list to methodically visit your top choices first. With extra time, you can explore additional tables.
  • When you reach a representative, confidently introduce yourself and your interest in learning more about their organization. Make eye contact and smile to connect.
  • Ask those smart prepared questions that show you’ve researched them. Listen closely to their responses to find openings to highlight your related experiences and qualifications.
  • Thank them sincerely for their time and insights. Before moving on, get a business card, offer to leave a resume, and confirm any next steps like formally applying online.
  • Jot down notes about each interaction right afterwards so you remember key details, interesting points, and any follow up needed.
  • While waiting in lines, engage fellow students in friendly conversation. This shows your interpersonal communication abilities – a skill employers value.

After the Career Fair

  • Review your notes, adding anything you missed from your conversations. Include any new companies you learned about for the first time at the event.
  • Neatly organize business cards and any brochures or flyers you collected.
  • Add follow up tasks like applying or scheduling interviews to your calendar so you remember.
  • Within 24 hours, email brief thank you notes to each representative, personalizing with a specific detail you appreciated them discussing. Double check spelling of names and companies before hitting send!

With advance preparation and strategic follow up, career fairs can help you find and pursue incredible opportunities aligned with your passions. Don’t miss this prime chance to get your foot in the door!


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