Career Fair Survival Guide

By Dimitri A.C. Ly, Career Advisor

Though a career fair is an excellent opportunity to explore different employment prospects, the sheer number of recruiters and competing job seekers attending the event can make it hard for you to get noticed. Also note that you should set reasonable expectations for yourself when attending a career fair; no employer is going to make you an offer on the spot, so your goal is simply to forge an initial connection with a wide variety of companies.

Follow these six tips in our career fair survival guide to make a lasting impression on recruiters and network your way to the top of the applicant lists.

1. Do your Research

LA key point in any career fair survival guide is the importance of research. Before attending the fair, find out what companies will be represented and make a list of your favorite prospects. You should also take a look at the employers' respective Web sites to familiarize yourself with their achievements and the way they do business. Similarly, some recruiters like to find out about their potential candidates in advance. If the career fair you plan on attending allows you to pre-register and send in a resume, you should do so at your earliest convenience.

2. Organize Your Day

If you've followed the previous step in our career fair survival guide, you should have a list of employers from which to build your schedule. The first hour is always the slowest, so come as early as possible, and visit your top choices first. If you're unsure of your approach, you can brush up your networking skills with one or two low-priority companies beforehand. Also reserve at least one hour at the end of the day to revisit your favorite prospects. They'll have met a lot of candidates during the fair, and you want to make sure they remember you.

3. Come Equipped

First and foremost, make sure you dress professionally. No employer has ever turned down a candidate for wearing a suit. Our career fair survival guide also advises that you create several versions of your resume, tailoring them to companies with different goals and criteria. Bring at least 10 copies of every version as well as a detailed portfolio. Recruiters may ask you to provide samples of your work, and you want to have everything you need to impress them at your disposal. Finally, ensure that you carry all your documents in a solid briefcase. Nothing says "forgettable" like a scrunched-up resume.

4. Optimize Your Time in Line

What other career fair survival guides often fail to mention is that the time you spend waiting in line is as valuable as the rest of your day. Remember that you're always under scrutiny, so you should avoid impatient gestures, such as sighing and checking your watch. Instead, grab and sift through the company pamphlets to appear interested, and use the time to network with other candidates. You never know what opportunities may arise. As you near the recruiters' booth, you can also eavesdrop to learn more about the company and find out what kind of questions you'll be asked.

5. Prepare for Interviews

A winning resume and a professional attitude in line can only take you so far unless you can make a strong connection with the recruiters. That's why our career fair survival guide recommends you create a one-minute introduction highlighting your skills and achievements. Think of it as a sales pitch for your candidature. By the same token, it's best to have answers ready for common interview questions, such as, "Why are you here today?" and "Why do you want to work for us?" You should also prepare inquiries of your own to show interest and keep the conversation flowing.

6. Leave on a High Note

When schmoozing with potential employers, be careful not to overstay your welcome. You don't want to soil the good impression you made by taking up too much of the recruiters' time. Besides, you have plenty of employers to visit, so it's generally best to keep things short. As you leave, don't forget to shake hands with all the company representatives and get their names. You'll need that information for the follow-up. Our career fair survival guide also suggests you pick up as many business cards, booklets and flyers as possible. You can sort them out later.

career fair winner

The advice in our career fair survival guide will help you stand out from the crowd, but it's crucial you also do a follow-up in order to stay fresh in the recruiters' minds. When calling or sending a thank-you e-mail to your new contacts, always specify the date and location of the fair, and try to mention any distinctive part of your short interview. This will help them remember you. Most importantly, let your potential employers know that you're still interested in working for them. As with all other forms of networking, enthusiasm is key.

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