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How to Make the Most of a Career Fair

Career fairs can seem overwhelming with masses of employers looming and eager to give you information. But what do you want to get out of it? Career fairs can provide you with the opportunity to make valuable contacts and learn more about various job opportunities in a variety of career fields. Here are some tips on how to work your way through the sea of employers and fish out the information you are seeking:

  • Decide what your goal is for the career fair. Will you be trying to market yourself for an interview, or simply collection company information? Will you be ready to pass out resumes, or would you prefer to collect business cards and apply at a later date when you can include a cover letter? If you have questions about how you want to tackle the fair, make an appointment with a Career Services staff member before you go.

  • Dress appropriately. Dress like a professional, not a student. Business suits are appropriate. At the very least, dress as you would for a typical day on the job, and then a step up. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed, and make sure your attire fits well. For women, do not wear something that too short, too tight, or too low, all of which appear unprofessional.

  • Have a flawless resume prepared and bring multiple copies. You will have a brief amount of time to talk to employers so you will want to leave a resume to remind them of your qualifications, if they will accept it. It is critical that it is error-free and easy-to-read. Don’t use “creative” fonts or try to cram it all into a limited space by using a tiny size font. If you need assistance with preparing or editing one, make an appointment with a Career Services staff member as soon as possible.

  • Do some background research on the organizations that are going to be represented. Try to obtain a list of the companies that will be attending the career fair so that you can begin your research early. Know the basic information such as what are their products/services, what are the goals of the company, what positions are typically open to recent graduates, the size of the organization, etc. This information will help you match your interests and abilities to that particular company. In addition, it will also help you identify the employers you want to seek out at the career fair. Recruiters would rather spend their time learning of your qualifications to see if you would be a possible match rather than telling you the basic information of the company.

  • Have a plan. Become familiar with the set-up and determine how you should proceed. Prioritize the organizations that you are most interested in and meet with them first. Be careful not to waste too much time in long lines. Remember, smaller organizations can provide good career opportunities even though they might not be as well known as the larger companies.

  • Prepare a 30-second “commercial” about yourself. Be prepared to summarize the important things you want the employer to know about you. Greet employers, tell them your name, your major, your class year, and whether you are interested in a full-time, co-op or internship position. Explain why you are interested in their organizations and be prepared to discuss how your interests and abilities match their needs. It is helpful to think of it in terms of what three points you want the employer to remember about you. Rehearsing your commercial will make you feel more comfortable in initiating conversations with employers.

  • Have questions prepared to ask the employer. What do you want to know about the company? Some ideas on what to ask about are typical entry-level jobs, job responsibilities, qualifications, training, and the possibility of travel and/or relocation. This is not the time to ask about pay or personal questions to the recruiter. Show interest and ask questions, but be sure to do so in such a way that you are not grilling the employer.

  • Ask the employer about the next step. When you give the employer your resume, be sure to ask what the next step is in the process, or what you can do to stay informed about open positions. Usually the recruiter will be able to give you a website address where positions are listed.

  • Send a thank you note. If possible, obtain the business card from the recruiters of the companies that are of the most interest to you, and then send a thank you note, letter, or e-mail within the week. If you are graduating that semester, include another copy of your resume with the letter. If your graduation is further away, follow up with a letter and copy of your resume as the date gets closer. If the recruiters do not have business cards to give out, write down their names and then try to obtain their mailing address through the internet or career fair information handouts.

Sample Questions to Ask*

  • What is a typical entry-level position within the company?
  • What types of experiences and background do you find helpful in candidates for these positions?
  • How is new employee training typically handled at the organization?
  • I noticed on your website that _ (something unique about the company, company culture, etc.); could you tell me more?
  • Does _ (company name) financially support employees pursuing advanced degrees related to their position/career?
  • May I leave my resume with you?
  • When do you hope to have the _ position filled?
  • Is there anything else I need to do to be considered for a position with _?

*Do NOT ask about salary, vacation, or something else to which you should already know the answer.

Questions Employers May Ask**

  • What kind of position are you looking for?
  • Why are you interested in our company?
  • What area of the organization most interests you?
  • What made you decide to major in _?
  • What kind of activities and experiences were you involved in while in college?
  • Tell me a little about yourself/ your experiences
  • What would you be able to offer the organization?
  • What are your short-term and/or long term goals?

**Conversations at career fairs are often very short, so the recruiters actually may not ask questions, or may just ask one or two. In many cases, they will allow you to do the asking.

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