Navigating the Career Fair

Applying for jobs in the 21st century has almost completely abandoned the idea of paper and pen by taking the form of online applications. While online job applications are convenient for both employers and applicants, and easy to find on job search sites, they eliminate one crucial element to the job hunting process- you! I don’t mean the accomplishments and qualifications listed on your resume, but your physical presence, first impression and professional skill set. Unless your writing talents are magical enough to make yourself jump off the page, your resume will probably blend in with the hundreds of others employers see.

This is where the importance of career fairs come in. Not only do career fairs break the online job application barrier, but they give students the opportunity to have in-person communication with hiring recruiters that other applicants may not.

If you don’t see the importance of meeting employers during the application process, here are other reasons to attend career fairs…

  • The employers come to you! Companies who attend career fairs are actively seeking new hires, which means you’ll probably have better luck with them than scouring the thousands of job applications online.
  • Practice your interview skills- Even if none of the companies attending an upcoming career fair at your school interest you, go anyway. This way, when you accidentally tell the recruiter about that one class you failed or forget your own name, it won’t really matter.
  • Create connections a.k.a networking- You would be surprised how eager people can be to help you succeed- especially if they like you. If you begin talking to a company that isn’t necessarily in your field of interest but you impress them enough, they might know someone in a different business to connect you with. Don’t ever underestimate the power of effort, a friendly smile and manners.

Now that I’ve given you reasons to attend a career fair, let’s answer some obvious questions regarding the career fair process.

How do you find career fairs?

As a student, one of your best (and most convenient) sources for finding upcoming career fairs is your institution’s career center. You can pick up information at your career services office, or on your institution’s website.

Another resource for finding career fair opportunities in Tennessee is through the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

How should you prepare for a career fair?

Once you have the career fair you’re going to attend picked out, begin browsing the companies that are going to be there. Take time to make notes on the businesses you’re interested in visiting and prioritize them in order of your personal preference. After you create the list of business you’d like to apply for, research what the companies’ missions, expectations and current job openings are.

Emily Bennington, a contributing writer for U.S. News and previous hiring recruiter, points out the importance of being knowledgeable about the businesses you visit in “3 Tips for Students to Ace Job Fairs.

Even if you do happen to come across a company that you didn’t intend to approach but looks promising, take a few minutes to sneak out and look them up on your phone,” Bennington said in the article. “You want to make every recruiter feel like your top choice.”

Be sure to go to the career fair with enough resumes to hand out to your companies of interest as well. When you’re printing resumes, print the number you need and then 10 more- just in case a few businesses surprise you with an appearance.

What should you wear to a career fair?

You’ve heard this saying before, and it never hurts to hear again- dress to impress! Don’t pick the day of the career fair to wear your favorite pair of pajama pants to school because that will NOT land you the job. While not every employer at a career fair will talk to you, they’ll still notice you. If you’re not dressed professionally and confidently, you can be sure that your resume is going to the bottom of the stack, if not the garbage.  Appropriate apparel for a career fair is “business casual,” which Business Insider explains what this looks like in their article “How to dress like a leader in any work environment.”

Attire to avoid:

  • Jeans
  • Flip-flops, sneakers, 5” heels
  • Hats
  • Sweatshirts
  • T-shirts, tank tops
  • Shorts and skirts shorter than an inch above the knee
  • Low-cut shirts

What should you be prepared to talk about?

You already know the answer to this one- yourself! Think about the types of questions you would be asked in an interview (academic/career interests, strengths, weaknesses, goals) and have thoughtful responses prepared for them. The more you prepare a quick description of yourself before the career fair, the more well-spoken and impressive you will be.

After the recruiter finds out what they want to know about you, it’s your turn to prove you’re truly interested in the company with your own questions. Base the questions off of the research you did before the fair so that you’re not asking commonly known facts about the company. The career center at the University of California, Berkeley, listed some other career fair etiquette tips to remember.

  • Introduce yourself with a handshake
  • Write down important information from recruiters
  • Thank the recruiter for taking the time to speak with you and answer your questions
  • Ask for the recruiter’s business card

Hopefully these tips will help you feel more confident before you try navigating a career fair, but the most important tip to remember is simply to be yourself!

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