How to navigate a career fair
By Laura Koss-Feder | January 22, 2020
Whether you are looking for a job or an internship, attending a career fair is a great way to put yourself in front of potential employers.
The thought of navigating a roomful of people can feel overwhelming at first. But you aren’t alone. Nearly 90 percent of all students attend a career event at some point during their college years.
Recruiters at career and field fairs are actively looking for candidates, so this is the time to be daring and take the plunge. Here are 10 tips to help you make a great first impression and land a job or internship in your field of interest:
- Do your homework. Find out what companies or agencies will be in attendance at the fair, and read up on them in advance. Make a list of the employers in your field of interest that you want to approach. Armed with your research, hone your pitch to those companies as you begin your conversation.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Even if the thought of approaching strangers seems intimidating, remember that employers at job fairs want you to come talk to them. They are there to hear about you. Before the day of the fair, role play with a friend or stand in front of a mirror and practice introducing yourself.
- Bring written materials. Carry a minimum of 30 resumes. Make sure your resumes are easily available to hand out. Since you won't have a cover letter, list an objective on your resume.
- Dress the part. Keep it simple. For women, stick to dark and neutral colors, such as black, navy, or gray. A blazer and knee-length skirt or tailored pantsuit works well. You also can combine nice slacks with a silk blouse or button-down shirt. Avoid high heels, party clothes, or anything revealing. For men, wear a suit or combine a black, gray, or navy jacket with coordinating pants. Choose simple patterns for your tie and socks, and stick to black or brown for your belt and shoes. Keep perfume or cologne and jewelry to a minimum. If in doubt, keep in mind it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
- Body language is key. Make direct eye contact with anyone you approach. Accompany that with a firm handshake when you introduce yourself. Stand straight, and speak enthusiastically. You may only have less than a minute to get in front of a potential employer, so you want to appear energetic and interested. Be polite and respectful to others when approaching the recruiter, and wait your turn if there are people ahead of you.
- Ask the right questions. You want to get a sense of what the job or internship entails, and if your skills and personality would be a good fit. Some questions to ask include: What are the day-to-day tasks involved? What are the top three qualities you look for in a candidate? What kinds of training opportunities are available? What type of supervision and guidance are provided? Take notes after you conclude each conversation. This will be important when you follow up.
- Be prepared to answer questions. The employer wants to learn about you, so be prepared to discuss: an important project you worked on, why you chose your major, any work experience you already have, what classes you have taken in your field, why you are interested in working for this organization, and where you see yourself going in your career after graduation. Focus on what you can do for the employer in your answers.
- Be your own salesperson. This is the time to promote your organizational skills, people skills, experience, and what you have accomplished in the classroom and in any past jobs or internships. Don't be afraid to gently brag; just keep it short.
- Know when to end the conversation. Once you have broached some questions and spoken about yourself, ask if you can leave a resume. Thank the employer for speaking with you. End the conversation with a firm handshake. Ask for business cards, and take hand outs for additional information.
- Follow up. Follow up within 24 hours by email, thanking the individual for meeting with you and reiterating how interested you are in an internship.
For more career and interview tips, visit AU’s Center for Student Success.