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How to Nail Your Career Fair; First in a Three Part Series

Career Fair Prep

In order to nail the career fair you have to think of it in three parts:

Part 1: Pre Career Fair Preparation: 
This is where you are clear on what you want to get out of the fair, you have all of the necessary collaterals, you know how to best position yourself, and you have researched and prioritized the companies that you are the most interested in.

Part 2: Working the Career Fair (the day of): 
On the day of the fair, you have a plan, supported by the notes from your research so that you can walk up to one of the recruiters, and wow them.  What’s a wow?  It is when they want to know more about you and their interest turns to consideration of a role they have open. 

Part 3: Post Career Fair Follow-up
You follow-up in a manner that sets you apart from the hundreds of other students they met at the event and they become part of your network where you can easily reach out to them in the future.


Let me cut to the chase: the more prepared you are the stronger your confidence will be, and confidence shows. This allows you be make a far better ‘first impression.’  Remember, a campus recruiter is meeting hundreds on the day of the fair, and you want to be on the short-list of people who stand out. I might add that that a poor recruiter has probably done or will do 3-7 other career fairs at other campuses and they are under pressure to find GREAT people.

Optimally you need to budget 8 hours to research and become organized. 

1.  Know Your Intention

You need to be as smooth with your intention as you are with your elevator pitch.  If there is a level of interest, you will have to state what you want. 

  • Is it a job or an internship?
  • When are you available?
  • If you seek an internship, when could it start and end to work within your schedule?
  • Is there a geographic area you are tied to or wide open to relocation?
  • Compensation needs (Be careful and hold back on this initially, but you have to have idea of what you want and need.) You should also inquire about other expenses. Some internships include housing, some do not.

2. Do Your Research

Many career fairs have hundreds of companies. You have to do some basic research so that you know what companies you want to target. Being focused is better than ‘browsing’ through the fair. After you know a bit about the organizations in the room you can set your priorities and come up with an impressive approach.

Download the list of exhibiting companies and put them into a spreadsheet. We have a tool that illustrates this (or you can set up a similar summary spreadsheet) it is called Job Search Radar. You are about to go through a ton of information, so be organized. 

You MUST know three things about any company you want to approach:

  1. What they do:  The WORST thing you can do is approach the recruiter and say, ‘So what do you do?’  It is your responsibility to do some research. A lot of students won’t, but you will, because you want to stand out. Also this research will allow you to prioritize (you can’t talk to 150 companies in an impactful way).

  2. Why are you interested:  You need to say why you are interested in them. Is it:
    1. An impressive brand?
    2. An exciting industry?
    3. Because they are well known for training young people
    4. You read _______ about them and found it interesting

  3. Then a couple of great questions you want to ask:  Don’t worry if you only have the first two, you will come up with the questions. Here are some examples:
  • Do you have internships for this summer?
  • What do you look for in a great candidate?
  • Who are you strongest competitors and how do you differentiate yourself from them?
  • I think you are involved in ______. How is that effecting your growth?

With great research, followed up with great questions, you become much more impressive.

3. Prioritize

If you could only talk to 3-5 in the room, figure who would it be and why. Then prioritize and deepen your research on them. Also determine the secondary 3-5 and be well prepared for them as well. You cannot reach every company or organization but if you target 8-10 companies where you can be very effective, you will have better results.

After you speak with your top picks at a career fair, ‘browse’ the rest but do try avoid the ‘so what do you do.’ You have a smart phone, use it on the day of the fair.

4. Fashion Your Elevator Pitch

You want to approach the recruiter and remember it is NOT about you needing a job, it is about them finding strong talent to build their company.  If from your research you determine how you have the potential to help better their company, great. If not, ask them what they are looking for and then be ready to follow up with ‘that sounds like I could be a great fit, because_______ (state why)'

5. Have Your Collaterals

Make sure you have an impressive LinkedIn and resume. Bring hard copies with you, but offer to send them via email to make it easier for them. Often they will have a portal where you can apply but you MUST get their contact information and follow up directly with them. Remember to bring something to write with.

I suggest investing in business cards.  If you hand one to the recruiter, their natural instinct in to give you one of theirs in return.  Now you have all of their contact information. 

May the games begin?

In Conclusion

Remember, this is all about:

  • Impressing the recruiter
  • Standing out and making the short-list of candidates for deeper consideration
  • Advancing on your objective (job/internship)
  • Sharpening your job search skills
  • Expanding your professional network

 Good luck.

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