Make career fairs work

Attending career fairs seldom result in immediate hires. However, they present golden opportunities for both students and employers.

Career fairs regularly take place on college campuses everywhere. In fact, we post these events on our website for students, who use our Career Network to get noticed by and connect with recruiters. We’ve found two startling, yet consistent facts from these 100 campuses.

  1. Only 4-5% of the student population attends each career fair.
  2. The vast majority of students window shop.

While we don’t believe career fairs are the end-all-be-all of campus recruiting, we strongly advocate for students to attend these events. When else will you see 50-100 organizations come to campus for the sole purpose of finding great talent?!

For those not actually looking to immediately land a job, career fairs bring 100-200 professionals who can be added to each student’s professional network.

Here are a few tips to make career fairs work for you.

  1. Rank the participating employers. Go through the list of employers, which is usually posted on the career center’s webpage. There may even be a printed version, available in the career center. Take a look at each employer’s information and available jobs (if provided). Group the employers in three categories.
    1. Must visits. The companies you absolutely want to meet. If all you do is visit this group, then you’ll feel the career fair is a success. This group may represent 5-10% of all participating employers.
    2. Very Interested. These are companies you’d really like to meet, if you have the time following visits with the “Must” employers. This group might represent 10-20% of the employers.
    3. The Rest. These are companies you’re not targeting to visit for whatever reason. This group may represent 70-85% of all employers at the fair.
  2. Conduct research on the “Must Visit” and “Very Interested” companies. In addition to the information you gather, be sure to write questions to ask each when you visit their booths.
  3. Create a career fair schedule. Block an appropriate amount of time to attend the career fair and visit with employers. Plan on spending up to 10 minutes with the “Must Visit” companies and around five minutes with the “Very Interested” employers. Be sure to plan extra time in case you want to return back to certain employers.
  4. Set aside time to followup. This is one very critical area, which most students fail. Plan some time later in the day to send emails to every person you met. Thank them for the conversation and invite continued interactions, even if you don’t want to work at that particular company. Whether you’re hired or not, these professionals may serve to be outstanding references, door-openers, mentors, and potential customers. For the companies you want to zero-in on for employment, write a personal note and place it in the mail. In all of these emails and cards, be sure to add a take-away from your visit. This may be a comment, brief story, hobby, interest…something that will trigger the person to remember you.
  5. Typical advice. This is advice we commonly share and that you likely receive from your career center.
    1. Dress appropriately.
    2. Leave your backpack at the door.
    3. Bring copies of your resume (at least one per your “Must Visit” and “Very Interested” employers).
    4. Greet confidently.
    5. Smile.
    6. Take contact cards.
    7. Collect business cards from those you engage in conversations.
    8. Go alone.
    9. Be open-minded.
  6. Have fun. Don’t let yourself get intimidated, nervous, anxious, or scared. The recruiters took time from their day to talk to you. They may be just as intimidated as you. When you feel yourself get nervous, simply flip your approach. This is your career, not theirs. So, look at it as you’re recruiting the employers, more than they’re recruiting you. If you take that tactic, you’ll feel more in control and likely feel and appear more confident.
  7. Don’t get down. Don’t get upset if you’re not offered a job on the spot. Remember that the best relationships take a bit of time to develop. This approach may also bode well for such things as negotiating salaries.

Many companies targeting young talent rely on career fairs to find their next great hires. With so many coming to campus to meet students, there’s no better way to meet with 50-100 at one time. Think about how long it would take for you to visit with 100 companies on your own.

When career fairs come to your campus, don’t hesitate to go and make them work for you.