A Guide to Getting the Most Out of a Job Fair
Whether you’re just starting out or have years of professional experience, attending a job fair can be an excellent way to promote yourself to potential employers. These events are great places to put yourself out there and establish connections with managers and recruiters. Even if brief, prior contact with a hiring manager can sometimes be the edge you need to pull ahead of other candidates.
In addition, job fairs (also called career/job expos and career fairs) are useful for gathering information about companies you’re interested in working for. However, the most compelling reason to attend a career fair might be the ability to avoid spending hours online looking through job listings and filling out applications.
Most people don’t even think about preparing for a career fair, let alone consider how to go about it. If you want to stand out from the crowd, however, it’s worth the extra time and effort. After all, a job fair is an invaluable resource that can greatly advance your career if you take full advantage of it.
Here’s our guide on how to get the most out of these events.
The Basics: What can you expect at a job fair?
A job fair is an event that allows managers and recruiters from companies, institutions, and other organizations to meet prospective employees. They typically set up booths that allow job seekers to learn about openings and apply for positions. Sometimes, candidates can even have an initial interview with a hiring manager or an HR representative on the spot.
Why would companies choose to participate in job fairs? Often, it’s because they have vacancies in key positions or multiple openings that need to be filled quickly. Job seekers at all career stages can benefit from these events, but not all career expos will suit your individual needs. If you’re a fresh college graduate in search of your first job, attending an event geared toward seasoned professionals with leadership experience isn’t going to be a good use of your time. Conversely, if you’re a seasoned professional, you’ll want to avoid career expos intended to help companies recruit new graduates with limited experience. Look for events that aim to provide opportunities to people with qualifications that roughly match yours.
You’ll also want to consider the field—some job fairs may focus on particular industries. Do your research to find events in your area that are best suited to you, your qualifications, and your career goals. Your chances of getting an employment offer at a job fair are much higher than your chances of beating hundreds of other faceless candidates when you apply online, so take this seriously.
What to do to prepare
As is true for any endeavor in life, success is largely a result of how well you’ve prepared. Here are some tips to help you maximize your chances of having a fruitful experience at a job fair.
If possible, register in advance
Often, this may include uploading your resume for potential employers to review, which gives them the opportunity to familiarize themselves with your experience and qualifications before the event. This may bias a hiring manager in your favor before they even meet you, and then you can strengthen your candidacy with a professional demeanor and a positive attitude.
Triple-check your resume and bring printed copies
You probably don’t need to hear this oft-repeated advice, but it’s critical to make sure that your resume is free of errors and tailored to the positions you’re pursuing. Before the career fair, make certain that everything is accurate and well-written. For the best result, hire a professional resume writer. Your resume is one of the most important documents in your career, and investing in a stellar resume can help you land a fantastic job.
If you’re applying for positions with different skill or experience requirements, bring versions of your resume tailored to each one. Also, don’t forget to print more copies than you think you’ll need – some organizations might want more than one. Come prepared to hand out a ton of resumes!
Do some reconnaissance work and plan ahead
Investing some time in learning about the companies that will be attending the career expo is an excellent way to prepare. This will help you identify organizations you’re interested in, decreasing the risk of wasting your time chatting with the representatives of companies that aren’t right for you. You’ll also be able to prepare questions to ask, which will ensure you don’t exit a company’s booth without all the information you need. Not only that, but you’ll come across as organized and confident, leaving a good impression on the recruiter.
As you learn about the organizations that will be present at the expo, start a list ranking them according to your interest level. Once you’ve finished it, you’ll have a rough action plan. Use your ranking as an order of operations, speaking to the higher-priority companies first. After you’ve had a chance to engage in leisurely conversations with people from the companies you’re most excited about, you can visit the booths of those lower on your list. If a map of the expo floor is available, review it to plot your course based on your order of importance. Thus, you can balance priority with efficiency.
Be prepared to promote yourself
As Will Rogers reputedly said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s important to develop and practice your “elevator pitch,” a quick summary of your qualifications and career goals. It should be between 30 and 60 seconds long and highlight the reasons an employer would want to consider you for a job opening. This is perhaps the most important thing to prepare beforehand as it can differentiate you from the other job seekers a hiring manager may encounter that day. With so many other candidates vying for the same positions as you, you don’t have a lot of time to wow each recruiter.
You should also be ready to participate in a formal interview at the fair. Think of questions you may be asked and prepare detailed and thoughtful answers. Not only will this make the experience less nerve-wracking, but it will also help you present yourself as a poised and well-prepared candidate. In getting ready for the interviews, remember to do some preliminary research on your top companies at the fair—this is a great way to eclipse the competition.
What to do at the career fair
Expect the unexpected, as they say! Be sure to leave home with plenty of time to spare to ensure you arrive at least 10 minutes early, accounting for potential traffic jams or getting lost. Dress in a way that’s appropriate for your field, keeping in mind that it’s almost always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Get a good night’s sleep so you’re well-rested and ready to face the day.
Check out the rest of the tips below to make sure you have the best experience possible.
It’s easy to think of the other attendees of a job fair as competitors. While that’s true to some degree, they can be a great resource if you view a career expo as a networking opportunity.
Be friendly, start conversations with strangers, and see what connection you might have to other job seekers. You never know which potential new friend will emerge as a connection that could help you land a job. You might even meet someone who becomes a colleague down the road! Make the effort to talk to other job seekers at a career expo, and be sure to exchange contact information with the people you meet.
Job fairs are also great places to discover and join professional organizations, which can further broaden your network. Be sure to ask the people you meet for cards or contact information so you can follow up after the event. No matter what, always be polite and friendly, keeping in mind that others may view you as a competitor. Be sure that you’re offering value to fellow attendees as you approach them.
Taking notes is useful for two reasons. First, it shows that you’re meticulous and fully engaged in your conversation with a potential employer. Recruiters will certainly mark your organization and enthusiasm. Second, jotting down names, relevant contact information, or notes on the next steps will be useful when you follow up after the event. You’ll likely have talked to many people and won’t remember all the details, however vivid they seem at the time, so this simple trick helps you derive the most value from a job fair.
Project confidence, warmth, and enthusiasm
Potential employers will begin forming their impression of you as soon as you introduce yourself. Be ready to begin your elevator pitch right after you’ve introduced yourself with a smile and a firm handshake.
If you’re seeking an entry-level position or are switching careers, be prepared to discuss your qualifications honestly and confidently, rather than trying to project an image of someone you’re not. If you’re still a student, for example, talk about how your academic experiences would be an asset. Highlight your strengths and try not to worry about how you might compare to people with more experience. Each candidate brings something different to the table, and you may still have certain advantages over more experienced job seekers.
Virtual job fairs
Much of the advice for in-person job fairs applies to virtual recruiting events, but there are additional steps you can take to ensure a good experience.
A virtual job fair may be chat- or video-based. If it’s the former, you’ll be engaging with representatives from different companies via a text messaging feature. Think of this as an opportunity to demonstrate your written communication skills. Be engaging and cordial, but avoid the use of slang, emojis, or text shorthand (e.g., lol, wyd, etc.). The people you interact with won’t be able to read your facial expression or body language, so it’s important to carefully consider and re-read your messages before you send them. Without the benefit of intonation and tone, text can easily be misinterpreted.
As in a real-world event, you may be invited for an interview at a virtual job fair. This will take place on Zoom or another video chat service. If you are interviewed, conduct yourself as you would during an in-person interview: Maintain good posture, make sure your body language shows that you’re engaged, be warm and friendly, and make eye contact with the person on the screen.
Before the career fair, make sure you have a reliable internet connection. When it’s time for the interview, join the chat from a place where you can comfortably have a professional call.
More control, no commute
The main advantage of attending a virtual job fair is that you don’t have to deal with any of the challenges associated with attending one in person. Since there’s no travel involved, you don’t have to spend any time or money getting to the venue. You can also attend job fairs anywhere in the world, which is especially advantageous for people who live in rural areas or hope to get a job outside of their home area. In addition, you can avoid having to take a day off work if you’re currently employed. It’s a much more convenient way to search for a job although you do lose the real-life connection.
Many of us experience anxiety when meeting new people or attending crowded events. Virtual career fairs can soften the emotional impact by giving participants greater control over their interactions. You can choose which people you want to interact with and take breaks from socializing as needed, all in comfortable and familiar surroundings. It’s also easier to respond to questions when you have time to type and edit your replies.
Advice for virtual job fairs
The advice for in-person fairs still applies, but there are a few extra tips to ensure you have a great experience with a virtual career expo.
Have up-to-date technology and a speedy internet connection
Make sure the internet connection you plan to use is reliable and fast enough to send and receive quality video. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan in case you experience a connection breakdown. If need be, ask a friend or a relative with a strong internet connection for permission to attend the virtual job fair from their place.
Unless you have no other choice, avoid using your phone to participate in a virtual career expo. Not only can it be difficult to keep your phone angled perfectly, but your audio and video may be glitchy. The video from a phone camera is easily distinguishable from that captured by a computer, and some people may interpret your use of a phone as unprofessional.
A narrow screen on a phone can also make it difficult for you to view other people’s video, which may pose a significant problem in case they are sharing their screen and you can’t make out what’s on it. If you don’t have your own computer or tablet, consider borrowing one from a friend. Many public libraries will also allow you to check out a loaner device for a few days.
Do a practice run a day or two before the event to make sure everything is fine with the device you plan to use. Ensure that your operating system and the software you’ll be using are fully up to date—few things are more frustrating than being forced to update and restart your computer in the middle of an important event. You must also test the internet connection—try a mock call with a friend—and if you have no experience with the program the fair is using, make sure to familiarize yourself with it.
Make a good impression
If you’re using Zoom, you can change the background of your video to obscure your surroundings. Some platforms might not allow this, however, so you should ensure that the space you’re in is clutter-free and contain nothing that is potentially offensive. Choose a relatively quiet room where you won’t be distracted by pets or children. Not only will this help you focus and look more professional, but you’ll make sure you can be heard clearly.
It’s important to dress as you would for an in-person interview, which includes wearing proper pants! Many people have embarrassing stories about Zoom calls where an unfortunately aimed camera captured a dress shirt and a tie above the waist and sweatpants below it. Wear what you would to a physical career fair, from head to toe.
Don’t forget that courtesy and manners are just as important in a virtual space as they are in a physical space—always mute your microphone when you aren’t talking and turn your camera off if you have to get up and move around. These are unspoken rules of professional online calls.
After you’ve attended a job fair (in-person or virtual), there are several things you should do. Follow the suggestions below to ensure you’re making the most of the time you invested in attending the event.
Follow up about positions you’d like and solidify connections
Sending a thank-you note can make the difference between fading from memory and getting hired. It may seem trivial, but it can definitely make a huge difference. Review the notes you took to jog your memory about the openings you’re interested in and follow up with a simple message. It can be an email or a written note, but either way, reiterate your interest and thank the recipient for taking the time to talk to you.
In addition to sending follow-up messages to representatives of the companies on your wishlist, reach out to fellow attendees. Ask about how they did at the fair and mention opportunities you know about that they might be qualified for. Tell them you’ll keep an eye out for positions that match their qualifications and ask them to do the same for you. Also, be sure to register for membership in professional organizations you discovered at the fair. After all, career expos offer more than just job opportunities.
If you follow the advice we’ve laid out, you’ll bolster your chances of landing the job you want. To strengthen your odds even more, consider hiring a trusted resume service to get your application materials in the best possible shape before your next career fair!