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Preparing for a Career Fair

A job search guide developed by the Stanford Career Development Center

What is a Career Fair?

Career fairs are usually one day events set up to connect large numbers of employers with career fair participants. Employers are there to recruit employees, so if you are interested in looking for a job or finding out more about a potential career, don't miss out.

What Can I Expect?

You can expect anywhere from 40 to 45 employers represented at different booths or tables. Employer representatives are anxious to give away their company brochures and other promotional materials they have brought with them. Their job is to meet as many attendees as possible and promote their organizations to you. It is likely that the table you want to approach will be crowded – be patient and observe. You can also expect a carnival type atmosphere with lots of background noise with which you will have to compete.

Sometimes companies will offer informal presentations simultaneous to the career fair. This is a great way to learn more about the company, a specific topic, and also gives you a chance to introduce yourself to an employer/presenter and get some individual attention.

Benefits of a Career Fair

Consider a career fair to be one-stop shopping. What a luxury to have the opportunity to talk to numerous employers at one time and place. Some direct benefits of attending a career fair include:

  • An efficient and economical way to make contacts.
  • Learning more about specific industries, careers and organizations.
  • Actually talking to a company representative instead of just mailing in or submitting an on-line résumé. 
  • Asking someone in the field for feedback about your résumé, education or experiences.
  • Making a company contact.

Of course, if a career fair is such a good deal then there may be hundreds to thousands of other people just like you trying to talk to employers. This is why it is so important to BE PREPARED to get the most out of attending a career fair.

Employers use career fairs to screen applicants or collect résumés to bring back to their organization. It is ideal to be able to engage the recruiter in a conversation so they will remember you and your skills. Do not be discouraged if this does not happen; there can be numerous people to compete with in this setting. Use your time to collect valuable company information via conversation and company materials so that you can write an incredible, well-informed cover letter stating your interest in an organization.

The career fair can be separated into three stages:

  • Before 
  • During 
  • After 

BEFORE - the preparation stage

Do your homework.

Contact the organization sponsoring the event and find out some of the following details.

  • Is there an admission fee?
  • How many companies will be represented?
  • Is there a published list available ahead of time or on the day of the event?
  • How will employers be organized? alphabetic order, by industry, etc.?
  • What is the starting and ending time of the event?
  • What is the dress?
  • Are there any special procedures to follow in order to participate?

Put together your résumé.

You may have a dichotomy of interests and in that case it may be ideal to have different versions of your résumé. Be realistic in your preparation time and remember that it is most important to have a well-polished résumé that shows off your education, skills and experiences. Be sure to have your résumé critiqued by at least three people. It is better to attend without a résumé than to NOT attend the job fair at all. At least in this case you can pick up pertinent information about an organization to use later.

Have a plan

It is very easy to feel intimidated at such an event. Wandering around aimlessly will only enhance this feeling. Have a plan – even if your only plan is to explore. This will help you to have some idea as to which organizations you want to approach. An example of a plan may be geographic, industry based, or by the majors requested. Many organizations will publicize the types of majors or job titles they are seeking. Be open-minded and flexible; you might be surprised at what you find.

  • Bring a pen, folder, note pad and/or some sort of log sheet to keep you organized. 
  • A highlighter can be useful to help indicate which organizations you want to target on your employer list. (If you forgot yours, don’t worry, you can always find an employer giving one away) 

Bring your pertinent questions

  • Your questions will depend on your goals (career exploration vs. job search). Sample questions may include:
  • What qualities and background are you looking for in employees? 
  • I am currently a freshman so I have I some time to plan ahead, what courses would you recommend someone take before being hired as a ____________?
  • What is the application process for your organization?
  • Do you have a business card I can have for future reference and contact? 

DURING - the actual event

Thank employers

for any brochures or promotional materials you are given. This is not a time to pick up stocking stuffers or birthday gifts for your family. Be reasonable with your consumption of recruiter giveaways. 
Collect business cards and jot down a fact on the back to jog your memory when you write a follow-up letter.

Approach a company representative and introduce yourself

Don't sit back and wait to be approached. Shake hands, make good eye contact and tell the employer your name, background and your interests. The more focused you are the better. If you are unsure how you would fit into the organization ask the employer open-ended yet specific questions. What qualities do you look for in your employees? What types of positions are currently available?

Create a one-minute commercial

as a way to sell yourself to an employer. This is a great way to introduce yourself. The goal is to connect your background to the organization's need. In one minute or less you need to introduce yourself, demonstrate your knowledge of the company, express enthusiasm and interest, and relate your background to the company's need and end with a question. This is meant to be a dialogue NOT a monologue.

Other dos and don’ts:

  • Be assertive without being rude
  • Be sensitive to others waiting behind you
  • Realize that recruiters like to talk to groups
  • Maximize your time at the career fair
  • Observe other students/employers for clues
  • Don't ask about salary and benefits
  • Don't monopolize someone's time
  • Don’t ask, “What do you have for my major”
  • Don't exhibit a lack of direction and focus

AFTER - the follow up

You are only as good as your follow up

Keep track of those companies and representatives with whom you spoke.

Send a thank you letter to those representatives you wish to pursue

This will set the stage for future correspondence.

Dress appropriately

Professional is best unless it is a more casual event.

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