Career fairs can be complex and overwhelming events to navigate through…however, they are a great way to learn about job openings, research companies and practice your interviewing and networking skills. Attending career fairs also provides you with the opportunity to obtain information about various industries, generate a list of contacts, and the opportunity to express your interest in a company and/or submit your resume. Below are some proven ways to help quell those uncertainties you may be feeling, grab employer’s attention, stay ahead of the competition, and potentially fast track your job search…

Preparation is key. Before attending the career fair, review the list of employers expected to attend. Know their products, services, clients, and locations. Check to see if employers have posted jobs on their company website. Job descriptions are important to review prior to making contact with an employer, the more you know the better. Employers love talking to candidates who are familiar with their company and business. Candidates who are knowledgeable about a company come across as intelligent and interested. Never ask a recruiter, “What does your company do?” This demonstrates a lack of initiative and research on your part, which is never attractive.

Dress appropriately. Use good judgment in what you wear to project professionalism and confidence. Do not wear shorts, jeans, tight clothing, sneakers, or sandals. Make sure your clothes are clean, wrinkle free and your shoes are polished and comfortable. Ties, jackets, dress pants, dark shoes, and socks for men. Shirts that don’t show the navel and skirts or pants that don’t defy gravity for women. This is a good time to tap into whatever conservativism you may have in you. One more thing, breath mints are always a good thing to have and smoking before going in…never a good idea.

Bring copies of your resume. Have your resume critiqued by your Career Coach in the Office of Professional Development before the Career Fair. It’s your responsibility to make sure it is perfect. Have several copies ready to take along. Be able to talk about everything on your resume, know what you have included and why. Bring a nice folder to carry your resumes and a notepad and pen for taking notes. Don’t be disappointed if the employer prefers not to take it. Some companies have rules and internal procedures regarding applicants. Occasionally, these rules will dictate that they can’t take resumes at a career fair.

Create a personal strategy. Plan on spending time at the fair, go early if possible because the first hour is usually the slowest. Practice your introduction. Who do you really want to talk to? Who would you like to talk to if time allows? Who would you simply like to obtain information from? Once you’ve targeted your employers, have something interesting to say. Chances are good that you’ve heard a lot about the elevator speech, and for good reason. In most instances, you’ll have under 30 seconds to introduce yourself to employers with the end goal being to make a lasting impression. If you haven’t already done so, create your elevator speech and run it by your OPD Career Coach for critique or if you would like some assistance in creating it.

Once that is complete, determine your list of questions: Tell me about the positions you are looking to fill? Why is there a need in this area? Do you have any written description of the position I could take with me (if not on their website)? Can you recommend a contact, for another business unit or division?

Attitude is essential. Be positive, confident and upbeat. Project yourself in a professional, assertive and enthusiastic manner. Never act desperate. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner, employers are watching at all times. So when you are walking around or waiting in line, it is imperative that you maintain professionalism.

Regard the career fair as a mini-interview. In some ways, a career fair is speed dating for the job search world. Successful jobseekers ask questions and concisely convey their job compatibility. For an interview, you typically have answers and anecdotes ready. However, jobseekers need to direct career fair conversation. The career fair will present many mini interviews and you need to be prepared for this. Anticipate interview questions and practice your responses. If you have not already scheduled a mock-interview with your OPD Career Coach, this is a good way to fine-tune your interviewing skills and assure confidence in your delivery.

Network, network, network! I cannot stress this enough, over 60% of job offers are the direct result of networking! More jobs are filled by networking than any other means. Talk to both employers and other job candidates. If you are standing in line, don’t be shy, talk to the people in line. Get to know other job seekers at the event, your next lead could come from the person standing in front of you or behind you. Making friends with others interested in the same company may seem self-defeating, but it isn’t, especially given that you may have different interests, skills, and experience in terms of job function.

Be aware of time. If the rapport with a specific employer is extraordinary, it can be easy to lose track of time but it’s better to give as many employers a chance as possible. Visit companies outside your industry. You will be surprised at how many companies hire in all types of professions. Ask specific questions, get to the point and most importantly get the contact information for later follow-up. Always request business cards or at least get an email address so that you can follow-up and pursue leads. It’s vital to make the most of your time at career fairs. There will be many employers and even more job seekers rivalling for attention so again, it is imperative that you prepare in advance of entering any career fair.

Follow up. Determine what follow-up is most fitting for you: sending thank you notes, transcripts, an updated resume, a list of publications, portfolio samples, reference list, or anything else that a company representative may ask for. It’s important to keep yourself fresh in the mind of the employers. To do this, you should send follow-up or thank you letters within 24 hours. Always refer to the date and location of the job fair. Try and highlight any part of the conversation that stood out to make it easy for them to remember you and include a copy of your resume. You might also want to follow-up with a phone call.

All in all….initially a career fair can be overwhelming and a bit daunting, but there are few instances that allow you to connect with so many diverse employers and network with numerous professionals in the span of just a couple hours, as well as immensely maximizing the return on your job search. Following these tips will help alleviate some of that fear and/or reluctance that you may be feeling and fine-tune those skills I know you all have.

In the end, reflect after each career fair and assess your experience. Understand what you did right and what can be improved upon, this will only benefit you in the future to be even more dynamic at the next career fair.

~ Cheryl