Less than 10 Ways to Master Navigating Career Fairs

It’s that time of year again. Leaves changing, temperatures cooling, pumpkin spice lattes. And oh yes...career fair season. September means brushing up your resume, getting your best “career” outfit out of the closet, and getting your vocal cords warmed up to talk to a *lot* of recruiters.

But fret not - with the right preparation you will be able to navigate this season like a pro. Below are 10 tips to be your best before, during, and after the fair:

Before the career fair…

1. Update your resume to include any summer internships. The average amount of time a recruiter spends looking at a resume is less than SIX seconds, so you want to make a strong impression quickly. Your education and relevant experience will be the primary things looked at, along with any leadership / activities. Make sure that you add in any internships you did this summer and focus on your individual accomplishments. Utilize your Career Services office - they will likely have drop in hours and advisors on call to help you prep for the big day.

2. Obtain a list of companies who are attending the fair and research the top 2-5 you want to speak with. Most fairs will publish the list of attending companies a few weeks before the event, so take a look at it and target the few that you are most interested in. Read up on those company in the days leading up to the fair. It’s not crucial to know every detail, but key updates, products, and team info will go a long way to show you are walking into a fair with some knowledge.

The truth: Do not approach your top company of choice first. Go to a few that are lower on your list to warm up. It doesn’t mean you aren’t making an effort, but it can help to get into a flow of speaking and build up confidence before going to the #1 and 2 on your list.

3. Think about your brand. Your social media presence, resume format, portfolios, and even your physical appearance all make up part of your brand. Think about how you want to come across to a company when applying for a role. It’s not the olden days of suits only - it’s ok to dress casual to a career fair - but also think about the company’s brand. Most finance / consulting / investment banking firms will veer on the formal side, whereas startups / tech companies will veer on the informal side. A good rule of thumb is to dress one level up from where your target company lies and align your brand accordingly.

4. Have your pitch ready. You’ve probably heard the term “elevator pitch” which means just that: if you were in an elevator with the CEO of your dream company what would you say to them in 30 seconds? Passion for the company and mission are great to see, but the truth: it doesn’t only have to be a love fest. (Politely) tell them what you would change or do differently if you were there at the company. What makes you unique and what experience would you have that makes you qualified?

During the career fair...

5. Be confident! You’ve done the work - now you’re ready to execute. It’s normal to feel nervous: believe it or not, even those on the other side of the table may find it challenging. It can also feel awkward to talk about your accomplishments, but this is the time to do it (and can be done without bragging). It’s also one of the few times in life where companies come to you with jobs and not vice-versa.

If you’re an introvert, give yourself enough lead time to ramp up to the fair. Perhaps a quiet morning, a trip to the gym (to boost up blood circulation to the brain), or time to decompress after the fair is over can help to balance your day. Bottom line: you’ve worked hard to get to where you are, now go after the job you want!

6. Don’t pull a swag and run - talk to recruiters. Companies often have fun swag like tshirts and they do want you to have them, but not without engaging with them first. Say hello, talk to the recruiters about the company and what types of roles they are looking to fill. Don’t be that person walking around stuffing a large bag with free stuff - that reputation is hard to shake.

Exception to above: when fair is complete many companies won’t want to ship back excess items and happy to give it away, but only take if and when they ask.

7. Quick, meaningful connections are possible. The average time speaking with a recruiter at a career fair is about 5 minutes, and even though it’s not much time there is still ample opportunity to make a great first impression. You are more than just a job seeker and they are more than just a company representative so formulate a human connection. Asking how their day was, talking about a personal hobby, recent travel, or just school in general can help formulate a closer connection. Which then leads to #8...

After the fair…

8. Follow up with contacts. I am always surprised at how many times I’d give out my email at a career fair and receive so few emails in return (less than 5%). Don’t be afraid to ask for contact info and if received it’s not a burden to the company to hear from you - it’s why they chose to be there in the first place. The email doesn’t have to be lengthy - send a quick note to say thank you and attach your resume. The cherry on top is to reference something unique about your conversation that the recruiter will remember you by.

9. Keep up the good work. Remember that job searching is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’re fortunate, companies will follow up right after the career fair to kick off the interview process but don’t be disheartened if it takes longer than expected. It most likely is nothing personal: there are headcount conversations happening on the other side of the table, sometimes grueling travel schedules and literally thousands of resumes that a recruiter obtains in a few short weeks. So be patient, persistent and your efforts will pay off over time. Worst case, if you do not get the main role / company you wanted don’t let that discourage you. Hold onto those contacts, follow up in another 6-12 months once you’ve gained additional experience, and keep yourself open to opportunities that can arise when you least expect them.

It’s a full time job to look for a job. Good luck this season!

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