A job fair, also known as a career fair or a recruitment fair, is an event where employers and job seekers come together to interact and explore employment opportunities. It’s typically organized by educational institutions, professional organizations or job placement agencies.
At a career fair, various employers set up booths or tables to showcase their organization and meet potential candidates. Job seekers, including students, recent graduates and professionals, attend the fair to learn about different companies, explore job openings, submit resumes and engage in networking opportunities.
During a career fair, attendees can participate in one-on-one conversations with company representatives, ask questions and make a positive impression. It's an opportunity for job seekers to showcase their skills, experience, and qualifications directly to employers.
In addition to connecting with employers, career fairs may also offer workshops, seminars or panel discussions on topics such as resume writing, interview tips, career development and industry trends.
A career fair can either go very well for you or not so great — depending on what you do (or don’t do) during and after it. There are some steps you can take to stand out from other attendees both positively and negatively. You don’t want to be known by recruiters as the person who came in pajamas and only snatched promotional items before walking away…
Armed with these expert tips, you’ll learn what you should and shouldn’t do at your next career fair to land the job you want.
Job Fair Tips: 4 Things You Should Do
Attending a career fair can be beneficial for both job seekers and employers. Job seekers can gain exposure to multiple employers in a short period, expand their professional network and potentially even secure job interviews or offers. Employers, on the other hand, can attract a pool of qualified candidates, increase their brand visibility and efficiently recruit for their open positions.
If you want to get the most benefit out of a job fair, though, there are things you should and shouldn’t do. Here are some things you should do while you’re there:
Do: Dress Professionally
Sometimes, when people go to a job fair, they assume they already have the job. They don’t. The biggest component of a job fair is the need for professionalism and it starts with how you present yourself. You don’t have to wear a Hugo Boss suit, but you should look presentable and dress professionally. First impressions are lasting.
Workplaces are certainly becoming more accepting of casual dress codes, but you don’t have the job yet, so dress to impress the recruiter. Men should wear a suit and tie or dress pants and a button-down shirt. Women can dress up in a blazer and skirt or dress pants. Clothing should be neatly pressed and tailored to fit properly.
Make sure your hair is neat and your facial hair is trimmed. Dressing professionally demonstrates you’re taking the job fair seriously and value each employer’s time.
Do: Bring a Resume
It’s good practice to have a resume at the ready. Make a few business cards or print your details on card stock to give to recruiters if they’re not accepting paper resumes. In addition to your contact information, list what type of position you’re seeking.
Recruiters should have a business card to hand you as well. You should always make sure to get a business card from a recruiter at the businesses you’re most interested in.
That way, instead of sending an email out into the ether and hoping it gets to the right place, you’ll have a direct contact within the company.
Do: Make a Plan
Job fairs can have anywhere from 10 to 400 employers. You should already know ahead of time who will be in attendance. Research the companies who’ll be there to decide which you want to speak with.
Be purposeful with your time. Especially at the larger job fairs, it can be easy to miss an employer you want to speak to.
However, at the same time, don’t be afraid to stop at other booths that are relatable to your search. They may have openings you wouldn’t have expected.
For instance, when I’m at the Anderson Trucking Company (ATS) booth at a job fair, I often see potential employees pass by our booth and say, “I don’t want to be a truck driver.” They’re shocked when I inform them of all our other opportunities.
Be open to employers that would house your degree or area. Companies aren’t just one-dimensional; they don’t often offer only one type of position.
Do: Prepare an Elevator Speech
Be friendly and have an elevator speech prepared. That way, if you’re nervous, you have something prepared and don’t stare at the recruiter with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
If you want to stand out and make a lasting impression, an elevator speech will go a long way. I suggest making a couple of versions: a 10-second speech and a 30-second speech. Depending on how much time you have with the recruiter — which can be limited based on how long the line is at their booth — you may not get that full 30 seconds with them.
A good elevator speech includes your name, your graduation date and degree (if applicable) and the position you’re looking for. If you have more time, ask how you can apply for a position or see if they’re taking paper resumes.
Here’s an example:
Hi, my name is Shannon and I graduate next month with a degree in business management. I’m looking for a position in business sales to leverage the skills I learned from my coursework and during my internship. Do you have any positions that would match this? Could you tell me how I can apply?
5 Things You Shouldn’t Do At a Job Fair
You’ll certainly make an impression if you do these things at a career fair, but not a good one.
Don’t: Grab and Dash
There’s a tendency for some attendees to do the “grab and dash” or the “snatch and grab.” Don’t just snatch treats and trinkets offered at a booth and run away. I see plenty of potential employees power-grabbing swag at every booth and never talking to anyone. They’ll come by, grab something and not say a word. If you make eye contact with them, they’ll give you a blank stare and leave.
While it’s certainly fine to grab promotional items — that’s what they’re for — it can leave a bad impression and look disrespectful if you don’t even acknowledge the recruiter.
Don’t be rude. At the very least, have the courtesy to say hello and introduce yourself. Maybe shake their hand. If you’re uncomfortable with a handshake — many are after the pandemic — a polite greeting is fine. Talk to the employer and find out what they’re seeking for candidates.
Don’t: Take Up All Their Time
Social cues are a big thing at career fairs. Pay attention to them. Don’t take up all of a recruiter’s time. Chances are, they have a lot of people to speak with.
Don’t overstay your welcome. Be respectful of social signals. Grab a business card so you can continue the conversation at a later date.
Don’t: Show Up at the End of the Job Fair
Depending on how long and how busy the career fair is, recruiters might talk to 10 people or 150 people or more. Recruiters can get burnt out and tired by the end of the day. They might just want to go home.
If a candidate shows up when recruiters are packing up the booth, it’s frustrating for the recruiter. They’ll engage with you, but they may be trying to leave. Therefore, they might not be giving you their full attention.
Show up early to the career fair. During the last few minutes, recruiters may be checked out. You’ll have a more productive conversation earlier in the day.
Don’t: Insult the Company
Don’t be rude or insult the employer’s company. If you don’t like the company, don’t stop at the booth.
It’s disrespectful to insult the company and vendor. They spent a lot of money to get there and took the time to be there. It’s simply rude to insult them.
Don’t: Travel in Groups
Don’t travel in groups with your friends to each employer. Venture out on your own. This makes you more engaging to talk with and to get noticed individually for your talent!
If you go with a large group, there’s a higher chance of missing the booths you want to see. You won’t get the personal experience you need (and deserve).
After the Career Fair…What Now?
Now that you’ve been to the career fair, what should your next step be?
For starters, don’t be afraid to follow up with the employer with a short email, text message or handwritten card. This method demonstrates your desire to work for that company. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t receive handwritten cards very often, so the gesture goes a long way.
A quick touchpoint saying you were happy to meet them is all that’s needed. For example, this note could work well for you:
It was great speaking to you at the St. Cloud State University College Fair last Wednesday. I appreciated learning more about your company and the sales positions you have to offer. I’d love to speak with you further to learn even more about the company and how I can apply for a sales position.
In the meantime, I’ve attached my resume.
Thank you for your time,
A message like this is a surefire way to at the very least get an interview. It’ll also help you get answers to any follow-up questions you have about the position, the company or the interviewing process.
You spent a lot of time at the career fair. Make sure you made good use of your time by following up with at least one employer after the career fair. If you go to the career fair and don’t want to follow up with anyone afterward, you probably didn’t want to be there in the first place.
Do follow the recruiter’s instructions for filling out the application. If you don’t fill out the complete application or fail to include the necessary materials, you’re going to be at risk of not having your application seen. If you can’t follow these directions, the recruiter may question how well you’ll be able to do the job.
Don’t be a pest after reaching out. If the recruiter said they weren’t interested, move along. Don’t call repeatedly. Move on to the next position. Respect their decision and try to call back in two to six months to see if anything has changed.
Find Your Dream Job
Attending a career fair can be a valuable opportunity to connect with potential employers and explore job prospects. To make the most of your experience, it’s important to keep in mind some do’s and don’ts during and after the career fair.
During the career fair, dress professionally to make a positive impression on recruiters. Bring copies of your resume and business cards to provide essential information to employers and secure their contact details for future follow-up. Research the companies in advance and have a plan to prioritize your interactions. Engage in friendly conversations with recruiters, utilizing a well-prepared elevator speech to highlight your qualifications and interests.
Avoid simply grabbing promotional items without acknowledging the recruiters, as it can come across as rude and disrespectful. Respect recruiters’ time and don’t show up at the end of the career fair. Avoid traveling in large groups, as it can hinder your individual engagement and chances of making a lasting impression.
After the career fair, don't hesitate to follow up with employers who caught your interest.
By adhering to these do’s and don’ts, you can maximize your chances of making a favorable impression, establishing meaningful connections and potentially securing future job opportunities. A career fair can be a stepping stone toward your desired career path, so make the most of this valuable event.
Now that you know what you should and shouldn’t do at a job fair, here’s how to prepare for one. (Hint: Definitely update your resume!)
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