Job fairs are not for the faint of heart, but if you attend with a plan of action in mind, you can get a lot out of the experience. Whether you’re attending a fair in person or virtually, you’ll be chatting with recruiter after recruiter, most likely "speed interview" style. And there will be plenty of eager job seekers in the room, so you’ll need to make sure you bring your A game. Here’s how to work the event for maximum success:
Before the fair
- Figure out your intentions. Arrive with more specific goals (and no, "get a job with any company that’s hiring" doesn’t really count). What are you looking for in an employer? What do you want to get out of your next role? How to do you want to grow? If you’re not actively job hunting—for instance, if you’re a student investigating your options well before graduation—job fairs are still rich with info and contacts, so don’t waste the opportunity of being in a room with what could turn out to be hundreds of potential employers! Once you’ve nailed down general career goals, think of goals for the event. Plan on talking to a certain number of recruiters or getting answers to specific questions. For example, if you want to work for the environment, you could set a goal of approaching at least five representatives from environmental organizations about possible jobs.
- Research companies that interest you. Many fairs will list participating organizations ahead of time. Do your homework as diligently as you would before a scheduled interview. For every organization you plan to talk to, find out their mission, their services, and if possible their open positions and the background of the representative who will attend. Run the organization’s name through the Idealist.org database to get the essentials.
- Master your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is a short summary (think seconds, not minutes) that demonstrates what you can bring to a potential employer. Practice delivering the pitch to ensure that it sounds natural, friendly, and not too rehearsed. Idealist Careers has great pointers to help you condense your skills and objectives into an elevator pitch.
- Prepare your tool kit. Print at least two copies of your resume for every organization you plan to target. Bring a folder or portfolio, since you’ll probably be picking up business cards and printed materials. Add a pen and notepad or electronic device to take notes. If you have business cards, bring them along!
Pro Tip #1: Overwhelmed with possibilities? Make a list of top-choice organizations, then second-choice organizations, then organizations you’d like to speak with if you have time. Prioritize your research accordingly and hit your top choices first once you get to the fair.
Pro Tip #2: Dress professionally—you have a few minutes with each company to make a first impression, and a polished appearance goes a long way. This advice goes for virtual job attendees too.
If you’re logging on to a virtual fair, check the equipment you plan to use including your camera, microphone, and connection speed.
During the Fair
- Get there early. Long lines (and interview exhaustion) happen. Early birds can talk to recruiters while you’re both still energized before the length of the event really sets in.
- Network with everyone. Talking to fellow attendees is a great way to make connections with others in your field.
- Keep an open mind about which organizations to approach. Even if you make a plan and stick to it—which we recommend!—it’s possible the organization you love may not be there after all, or another interesting employer will catch your eye. Likewise, if an organization doesn’t currently have job openings that sound like a fit for you, you should still use this chance to learn more about their work. Consider this a bonus informational interview.
- Lead with a friendly face and a handshake. You’re likely to get only a few minutes with each recruiter, and if your body language projects confidence, you’re off to a great start. Enthusiasm and genuine interest will help you stand out in the sea of applicants. You can show the same enthusiasm, minus the handshake, at a virtual job fair. Have a formal greeting prepared, and if you’re typing in a chat window to talk to recruiters, use complete sentences and proper grammar—and beware of how easy it can be to slip into casual text mode online.
- Ask the right questions. Take advantage of the one-on-one meeting to learn what you can’t find on a website. What’s a typical day like at the organization? How would the recruiter describe the organization’s culture? What does initial training look like for open positions?
- Exchange contact information. Pick up a business card if the representative has one, or write down their info and ask how they prefer to be contacted. If your interest is piqued, make sure to find out about next steps. For instance, you may need to formally apply online for an open position.
After the Fair
- Send a thank-you note. Unless the recruiter specifies otherwise, send an email so your information is easily accessible in their inbox. Make contact 24 to 48 hours after the event and write to everyone you met, not just your top choices.
- Continue your outreach. Job fairs are ideal places to broaden your network. Follow organizations on social media for updates. If you apply for a job in the future, mention your attendance at the fair so the company can see your ongoing interest.
Networking is often about the long game. Though you’re not likely to leave a job fair with an offer in hand, you should leave with new contacts and new possibilities.
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Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.