Making the Most of a Career Fair
What is a Career Fair?
A career fair is a recruiting event where a large number of employers meet with job seekers to provide information about general career opportunities as well as specific details on current openings. Career fairs are a good way to meet and connect with representatives from a variety of companies and organizations while also improving networking and professional skills.
The more time you spend preparing for a career fair, the more comfortable, confident, and successful you will be when you attend.
Learn about Upcoming Career Fairs
Information about upcoming career fairs can be found on Handshake. The Career Services Center participates in two career fairs each year, one during Fall semester and one during Spring semester.
Haven't utilized Handshake yet? Click here to learn how to get started.
Before you attend a career fair or begin your preparations, we recommend defining what you expect to gain from a career fair. This first step will help you gauge what type of questions to ask, who to talk with, and how to prepare.
For instance, if you are attending a career fair to search for a job, you will want to spend more time researching the open positions available and developing questions that will help you determine which jobs you want to pursue. Your questions may focus on advancement opportunities, flexibility, travel, challenges, training, or skills sought.
However, there are other reasons to attend a career fair. Perhaps, you are interested in developing your networking skills and want to practice making professional introductions or maybe you want to learn what opportunities are available even if you are not currently looking for a job. In these cases, you may prepare a general resume, seek a wider range or employers to meet, and develop general questions regarding the employer’s career path, the organization’s services, etc.
Typically, prior to the fair, the career fair hosts will provide a list of employers and organizations that will be in attendance and the positions available. It is recommended you review this list and target the positions and employers you are interested in meeting. After you create a targeted list, research further into each employer/position. You can find information on companies and organizations by utilizing resources such as Handshake, the company’s website, current employees, LinkedIn, or even news articles.
Confirm your resume is up-to-date with the most relevant information and experiences. A resume created for a career fair may be broader than a job specific resume if being handed out to a variety of employers. You may consider having two to three different versions of your resumes if seeking specific positions at a career fair.
Tip: It may also be beneficial to update your LinkedIn profile. Many recruiters, including those attending the career fair, utilize LinkedIn to maintain connections and search for job candidates. To help you stand out, visit drop-in hours at the Career Services Center to have a LinkedIn photo taken.
Plan What to Wear
First impressions leave lasting impressions, so present yourself in a professional manner. Overall, we recommend wearing what you feel most comfortable. However, when deciding what to wear consider these tips:
- A conservative suit
- Clothing that fits appropriately
- Neat, pressed, clean clothing without tears, rips or hanging threads. All buttons, snaps, or hooks should be on the garment and hems sewn in place
- Clean professional shoes you feel comfortable walking in
- Casual clothing (denim, knit t-shirts)
- Flashy, trendy, cartoony tie
- Athletic socks
- Distracting jewelry
- If wearing a tie, ensure it matches and extends below the belt line
- If wearing perfume, cologne, or aftershave, verify it is subtle
- If wearing accessories (necklace, earrings, and bracelets), make sure you keep it minimal
- If wearing nail polish, check it is not chipped
Tip: To generate some ideas or get inspiration for recommended professional looks, visit the Career Services Center’s Pinterest page.
Plan What to Bring
It is advised to bring the following items when attending a career fair:
- Copies of your resume
- The Career Services Center offers a maximum of 10 free resume prints on professional paper when you visit the CSC in-person.
- Business Cards
- The Career Services Center offers 30 business cards for $3. Please allow one week for completion of your order.
- Padfolio or Pad of Paper
- The Career Services Center offers padfolio rentals on a first-come-first-serve basis
- List of references
- Pen (at least two)
- Good handshake, smile, and a positive attitude
An elevator pitch is a great strategy to use for introductions during career fairs or any networking event. The goal of an elevator pitch is to introduce yourself, highlight relevant skills and experiences, and lay the foundation to begin a conversation. We recommend including the following information when constructing your own:
- Where are you now (degree, program, year in college)
- Where have you been (career-related experience, leadership experience, part-time work, etc.)
- Where are you going (future goals)
Tip: When delivering your elevator pitch at the career fair, end with a question to start a conversation.
Elevator Pitch Example:
"Hello, my name is Alex. I am currently a Sophomore at Marquette University, and will be graduating in May 20XX with my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Corporate Communication. As a student I have had the chance to gain leadership and organizational skills through my involvement as the Vice-President of the College of Communication Student Council. In addition, I have worked for two years as a server at the Annex, allowing me to gain valuable customer service experience. I am seeking an internship in the field of public relations for next summer. Can you share with me any opportunities within your organization that might fit with my skills and experience?"
When you arrive at the career fair, you will first want to sign-in at the check-in table. Be mindful that there may be a drop-off for your coat and/or backpack.
Tip: At check-in, you will be provided a nametag. You should wear a nametag on your right side to make your name more visible when shaking employer’s hands.
Take a moment and get a map to locate employers. If you prepared ahead of time, you can locate your list of targeted employers and plan your course of action. If you are attending the career fair to see what opportunities are out there, this map will give you an idea of where you may want to begin looking as well as provide information about which employers are at the career fair.
Starting your career fair introductions and conversations can be nerve-racking once you arrive and you may have feelings of not knowing where to start. We recommend taking a breath and remembering that when it comes to employers, you are there to meet and learn about them just as much as they are there to meet and learn about you. Perhaps, start with an employer that is not on your targeted list of employers to meet with in order to warm up, get comfortable, and practice your elevator pitch.
Once you are ready to initiate conversations, always start with a professional handshake, and then begin your elevator pitch. After the conversation has started, be mindful of time as well as students around you. If several students are waiting to speak with the employer, keep the conversations brief. During the conversation, be engaged, do not interrupt, and be yourself.
When you interact with an employer or organization, having questions will make the conversation feel natural and make you stand out. We recommend asking questions about open positions, the employer’s personal career path, or questions that relate to your career goal. Below is a list of sample questions:
- After hearing about my experiences and my skills of x, y, z, what current positions available at your company do you think I’d be most qualified for?
- I am interested in working with your company, would you mind telling me your career path and how you began working with Company X?
- One of my career goals is to continue my education and grow within a company to one day become part of the leadership team, does Company X offer advancement or continuing education opportunities?
What to Take and What to Leave
When meeting with an employer you are interested in learning more about, seeking employment to, or wishing to connect with, make sure to ask for their business card, take handouts, and leave your business card. You may also wish to provide the employer with your resume. Do not be discouraged if the employer cannot accept your resume since they may be instructed to tell prospective job candidates to apply online.
Career Fairs are intended to begin connections, and following up after the career fair will help you maintain those connections. It is recommended you follow-up within 48 hours after the career fair. Follow-up can take the forms of an email, handwritten letter, or LinkedIn connection. When following-up with an employer ensure to include the following information:
- Thank them for their time
- Name specific details from the conversation
- Reiterate your skills and interest
- Inquire about open positions or interviews
- Include a copy of your resume
Tip: Make sure to organize your contacts by using programs such as Excel. It is helpful to record the person’s name, company, date of initial contact, date of follow-up, and key notes.
Based on feedback we receive from employers and our experience with career fairs, following these additional tips will help you succeed at a career fair:
- Be relaxed, natural, and yourself
- This comes with preparing, practicing, and gaining experience
- Attend the career fair early
- Some employers may leave early, so arrive early to avoid missing them
- Follow-up with employers
- Following-up shows your initiative and interest
- Separate from your friends
- Being independent will help you stand out to employers
How to Prepare
- Test your internet and video connection
- Familiarize yourself with the Handshake platform before the virtual fair by watching this video
- Have your resume, notes, and questions accessible for your own reference
- Complete your Handshake profile and upload a current resume for employers to see
- Research organizations of interest and determine who you want to speak with
- Sign up for group and one-on-one sessions ahead of time or in real-time within the Handshake virtual fair event
- Pull together a presentable business casual outfit
- Ensure your video background looks clean and presentable
What to do at the fair:
- Locate your chosen employers through the Handshake virtual fair event
- Sign up for group or one-on-one sessions
- Warm up with employers that are lower on your target list
- For one-on-one sessions, begin the conversation with your elevator pitch
- Where you are now (degree, program, year in college)
- Where you have been (career-related experience)
- Where you are going (future goals)
- When you are talking to an employer over video, smile and pay attention to posture and body language
- Ask the employer a question relating to your career goal(s)
- Ask the employer for their contact information or best method for staying in touch
What to do after the fair:
- Follow up with employers you are still interested in - email and LinkedIn are great methods to use for this:
- Thank them for their time
- Name specific details from the conversation
- Reiterate your skills and interests
- Inquire about hiring process
- Include a copy of your resume (preferably in PDF format)
- Favorite the employer in Handshake to receive job and internship updates
Additional Tips for Virtual Networking:
- Be mindful of verbal and written communication. When interacting with employers via chat, use full sentences and correct spelling instead of texting language or casual abbreviations. This is an opportunity for you to display strong written communication skills.
- Be mindful of your environment. Eliminate clutter and distractions that may appear in your video.
Questions to Ask Employers:
- What kind of entry-level positions exist within your company?
- Do you offer internships? Do internships often convert to full-time hires?
- What does the hiring process look like?
- What do you look for in an intern/new hire?
- Are graduate degrees important? If so, in what areas?
- What academic/professional background do you think makes a prepared candidate?
- Is there a GPA cut-off in the recruiting process?
- What personality traits are important for success in your organization?
- What made you choose this organization?
- How long have you been with the organization?
- What things has your company accomplished of which you are especially proud?
- How long do entry-level hires tend to stay in their positions? What is the process for growth within the organization?
- Do employees need to relocate?