Tips for Attending a College Job Fair

Attendees at a job fair
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As college students graduate, they're typically eager for employment. That's where career fairs come in handy. By attending a college career fair, these students—and sometimes, college alumni—can meet with a variety of prospective employers. 

If you're a recent or prospective college graduate, it's worth considering attending a college career fair, whether it's virtual or in person. You'll be able to explore available jobs and careers at a variety of organizations, and potentially, in a variety of industries. 

As you meet with company representatives attending the career fair, you'll be forming connections that'll help increase the likelihood of your application being considered by employers.

What to Expect at a College Career Fair

These events can take place on campus, at an off-campus site, or virtually. 

Often, college career fairs have a networking component that allows students to meet casually with employers at tables or booths that are set up in the event venue. (At virtual events, there might be virtual spaces devoted to more casual networking conversations.) 

There may also be opportunities for more formal one-on-one interviews with hiring managers from participating organizations.

Organizations recruit for internships, summer jobs, or post-graduate positions. Companies also attend to generate interest in future openings at the company. 

Virtual College Job Fairs 

A virtual career fair has a lot in common with an in-person career fair. You'll still want to dress professionally and have an elevator pitch prepared. (See tips for career fair success below.) It's just that all the action will take place online, instead of in person. 

Here's how it usually works:

  • You'll sign up for the event online.
  • Organizers may do some pre-event screening; you'll likely need to upload your resume and potentially fill out a questionnaire.
  • Instead of walking through a large space to speak to potential employers at booths, you'll go to virtual booths.
  • Potential employers will often present on what it's like to work at their company, so you can plan a schedule around break-outs and planned presentations. 

Typically, you can also schedule one-on-one virtual chats with representatives from hiring companies. 

Top Tips for College Career Fair Success

College job fairs can be crowded, chaotic scenes, with many other candidates on hand clamoring for attention. How can you effectively navigate the event and make a positive impression on potential employers? Here are a few tips on how to optimize your comfort level and success rate at a job fair.

Research the Participants

Find out which companies will be at the event. Look for a list of participating employers on your school's website in advance of the program, or contact the job fair sponsor to inquire about recruiting organizations. Formulate a prioritized list of employers you'd like to meet within industries of interest.

Target your job or internship search. Carefully review the career, job, or human resources section of the company website to identify internships or jobs that are a good match for your interests, skills, values, and experience profile. Prospective college graduates should pay close attention to training programs. Prepare a statement or two to clearly convey why some of these jobs or types of jobs are a good fit given your strengths and interests.

Research as many of these employers as possible. Learn a little about their recent successes and challenges. Try to find a genuine angle as to why they appeal to you given your own values and interests.

Prepare to Make the Best Impression

Create a list of questions to ask. Prepare a list of questions to ask the participants to avoid being stuck not knowing what to say when you meet a recruiter. Ideally, you'll have some general questions (that would apply to nearly any company) as well as specific questions that are tailored to an individual company. Recruiters will be impressed by the more targeted questions, since it'll show you've done your research.

Prepare an "elevator speech" to introduce yourself to employers. To do this, try to think of a handful of reasons why you would add value for most employers. Ask friends, advisors, parents, past supervisors, faculty, and others who know you well for suggestions. Analyze your past successes as a student, volunteer, friend, employee, intern, and campus leader, and identify assets that have helped you to produce those successes.

Carefully prepare your wardrobe and appearance for the event. In general, err on the side of being overdressed as opposed to underdressed. You'll make a better impression if you dress professionally. Do analyze the culture of your priority employers and show more flair if you are targeting firms that value creativity in dress, such as companies in the fashion industry.

What to Do During the Event

Arrive early. That way, you can access your priority employers before they are overcrowded with applicants. Try to cover as much territory as possible during the day, since you may be pleasantly surprised by employers with whom you were not originally familiar.

Seek out smaller and less-well-known companies. Don't be overly preoccupied with brand-name employers since they may have the most competitive employment scenarios.

Smaller employers who are not well known may offer wonderful opportunities and allow entry-level hires to take on broader and more responsible roles early in their careers.

Maintain a positive, energetic attitude throughout the day. This will be critical to your success. Even though you may be articulating similar statements many times during the day, remember that it is the first time that each employer will hear from you. Keep it fresh.

Pay attention to your body language and nonverbal communication. Stand up straight, lean slightly forward to engage the recruiter when you're introducing yourself, vary your vocal tone to accentuate your statements, and project a smiling, positive energy.

Be upfront about your enthusiasm. If you have a genuine interest in the employer, towards the end of your interaction, verbally affirm your interest in working with the organization or express your interest in further exploring opportunities. Everything else being equal, the most enthusiastic candidate will often gain an edge with competitive employers. Collect business cards from employers of interest so you'll have contact information to use to follow up after the program.

Follow-Up After the Career Fair

Remember to follow up after the event. Make sure you get the contact information for any of the interesting recruiters with whom you have met.

Make sure that you communicate a strong sense of your interest in a future meeting with the organization to explore opportunities further.

As soon as possible after you leave the event, compose a communication to them that briefly conveys why the firm is an excellent fit given your background.

The Bottom Line

Thoughtful preparation prior to a job fair, effective execution at the event, and high-quality follow-up after the program can go a long way towards generating job offers from your next career fair experience.