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The Complete Guide to Win at Career Fairs

Career - 01 Apr 2019 by System

Ah, career fairs. Whether you’re a student, fresh grad, or seasoned veteran, career fairs are a treasure trove of opportunities. To get the most out of it, you gotta get prepped and ready to deliver your best game to the recruiters in the career fair and up your chances to score that interview invitation. In fact:


Treat a career fair like an interview.


Dress like it, act like it, and please prepare like it’s an interview. Here’s how.

First Impression is Key

Recruiters can read you like a book. They go through tons of emails and CVs every day - even more in a career fair - and they have eagle eyes that know if you’re not prepared and they will remember this. 

Let’s make sure recruiters remember you positively by preparing to present yourself positively.

Please please please, be prepared!

1. Dress to impress

Your appearance speaks louder than your introduction.  Don’t waltz in with some anime T-shirt, flip-flops, and bedroom hair. It doesn’t matter the company has a casual dress code - you look like you don’t care. If you don’t care enough to prepare for the career fair, you probably won’t care enough to do your job.

Frozone from The Incredibles looking for his super suit by asking his wife and subsequently getting scolded.

Don’t go panicking about your suit at the last minute

For guys, dress shirt, casual suit, and a nice pair of shoes. For the ladies, a nice blouse and blazer. You don’t have to be ultra formal - dressing like James Bond can be overkill. Just look professional and fresh, and also comfortable. Chances are you’ll be standing in line in a room full of people - at least for now.

2. Do your research!

Stalk the companies that will attend the career fair. Look up who they are, what they do, and recent events that they go through. Learn the positions they’re looking for and what the job is. With this much preparation, your conversation with the recruiter can go something like this: 

“I heard about the merger with ACME Inc. the other day. I believe that I can contribute to a smooth transition with my skills and experience as a Human Capital Specialist.”

Boom. Perfect. They’ll remember you for that.

On the contrary, don’t just walk in and be like, “uhh what company is this?”. Or worse, not knowing anything about the position you’re applying for. I’ve seen people confusing between Front End and Front Desk. They’ll still remember you for that, but not in a nice way.

3. Prepare an elevator pitch

You have dozens of booths to stop by and talk to. The recruiters have hundreds of applicants waiting in line. Neither of you have the time for a long chat. This is where the elevator pitch comes in handy.

The elevator pitch is a very short summary of yourself, your experience, and accomplishments. Its name comes from the concept of pitching yourself, why you want to work there, and why should they pick you in the length of an elevator ride (30 to 60 seconds).

It’s a great tool to grab attention and make yourself memorable in a short amount of time, and up your chances for further discussion! So if you don’t already have one, make one. And be sure to practice it.

4. Bring Your CV

We’re moving towards digital career fairs and most employers don’t accept physical copies anymore. But don’t underestimate the power of physical CVs! Do bring a few copies with you to the career fair. Ideally, bring one for each company you’re seriously interested in, plus a few extra.

After your bombastic elevator pitch, recruiters would sometimes ask to look at your CV. That’s where you whip out that thing. If not, play it smooth. Take it out yourself while talking to the recruiter, pointing out to the experience listed in your custom tailored CV as you converse.

If they still only accept digital copies, it’s totally fine! At least you came prepared. Besides, you’ve already spruced up your online presence before the career fair… right?

For the more experienced of us, it’s even better to bring your business cards. They’re handy if recruiters don’t accept physical CVs, and (if you’ve impressed the recruiter) you’ll get their card in return, which is a great way for following up later.

During the Career Fair

So you’re prepped and decked out for the career fair, looking sharp. Nice. But this is where it all counts. The rest is up to you to leave a dashing impression and get the most out of this opportunity, so let’s make sure you’re doing it right.

5. Ask questions

What better way to express your enthusiasm than to ask questions? Of course, some silly questions should be avoided, like “ehh what’s this company?” That just means you’re not prepared.

Instead, ask questions that build upon your research and shows you’re serious about this. Asking about the career path says that you intend to stay. Questions about requirements and challenges of the job gives opportunity to slip in your strengths and qualifications.

This drives the conversation towards how you can contribute in the company, and shows that you’re serious about this opportunity, which will make recruiters take you seriously in return.

Don’t ask about salary yet, though - save it for after the interview.

6. Go to your dream companies first

While you’re still fresh and energized, go straight to the companies you’re most interested in. Coming in early and being the first one to shake hands and smile leaves a lasting impression about your diligence and makes you easier to remember.

Another plus side is that you don’t look tired and drained. You have plenty of energy left still to make meaningful conversation and show your excitement and enthusiasm. Besides, prioritizing your dream companies is useful if time is short.

Otherwise…

7. Go to your dream companies last

If you’ve got plenty of time (or insane time management skills), it’s wise to start with companies that you don’t really care about. Find lonely booths with recruiters that have nothing to do, and practice on them!

Have a nice conversation, learn new things, and use it to sharpen your elevator pitch and approach. This extra practice is useful to get insight to improve your first impression past solo practice. By the time you’re done, you’ll be even more ready to take on the companies you really want.

However…

8. Don’t Burn Bridges!

Just because they’re “practice companies” doesn’t mean you can act like you don’t care at all. Be polite and courteous. Take your conversation seriously as if you’re actually interested in a career with them (this helps with your practice, too). If it went particularly well, it doesn’t hurt to leave your CV or swap business cards.

Who knows - the recruiters might know some people, or their company might take your interest in the future. Remember that career fairs are as much about getting jobs as networking. You’ll want to be remembered well and keep all doors open.

9. Get Their Numbers

And write them down! You’ll be meeting with dozens of recruiters, and however impressive your memory is, you can’t remember everyone’s names. Bring a notepad (or get a free one from a big recruiter) and write down the names and emails of recruiters you talked to.

Afterwards, it’s useful to tidy up the contact information you have. Clean up your scratchy notepad and business cards into an spreadsheet or something, so it’ll be easier for you to…

10. Follow Up

Reconnect with the recruiters and remind them about how you appreciated meeting them at the career fair yesterday. Following up will make you more memorable and proves your seriousness in pursuing a career with their company. Ideally this should be done after a day and before a week past the career fair.

The typically proper approach includes emails, including InMails and (sometimes) their personal work email. Phone calls can be seen as enthusiastic or annoying, depending on where you live, their company culture, and the recruiter’s personal preference, so it’s more of a risky approach.

For the Win

Recruiters may be super picky and critical about first impressions, but they’re also really good at spotting signs of preparation and genuine enthusiasm. After a tiring day in the career fair, they sure will notice and appreciate the effort you take, and you will stand out among the hundreds of applicants who didn’t read/follow this guide. That’s where your effort and preparation will be worth it.

Good luck, and good hunting!