Tips for Getting the Most Out of Career Fairs
Why Go to a Career Fair?
From the Employer’s Perspective:
- To promote their organization and increase awareness of their brand
- To provide information about opportunities available within their organization
- To meet and increase their pool of potential, qualified candidates
From the Job Seeker’s Perspective:
- To explore and learn more about industries and organizations of interest to you
- To connect with employer representatives face-to-face and demonstrate or hone your interpersonal, communication, and professional etiquette skills
- To expand your network
- To find out more about opportunities that exist for someone with your background and skill set
- To compare different corporate cultures, and get a sense of where you would best fit
- To determine the qualifications, skills, personal qualities and experience you should emphasize in your communications with industry professionals and prospective employers
What to Do BEFORE the Career FairDo you want an employer to remember you as "sloppy, looked like he just rolled out of bed, and didn't seem to know anything about our company" or "polished, professional, well-prepared, well-spoken and seemed like she would be a great fit for our team"? A little advanced preparation can make a big difference in helping you to distinguish yourself as a candidate and make a positive impression on prospective employers.
- Goals: Define your goals for the event, and devise a plan of action that outlines the specific steps you will take to achieve your goals. Are you going to the fair to find out about full-time opportunities for new graduates within a specific organization, and learn about how and when to apply? Are you hoping to overcome your fear of approaching employers, and hone your business social skills? Or are you confused about your career options, and wanting to explore what you can do with your degree? Knowing clearly what you want to get out of the fair is the first step in realizing your goals.
- Research: Many job seekers go to fairs as if "window shopping" for jobs, and are ill-prepared to answer commonly-asked questions such as “Tell me a little about yourself” or “Why are you interested in working for us?”
- Do your research. Find out in advance which organizations will be attending the fair, prioritize the employers you want to target, then learn as much as you can about the organizations of interest to you (e.g. the nature of its work, its history, mission, vision, values, clients, competitors, work culture, short and long-term priorities/projects, unique characteristics, strengths, issues and challenges, and any trends or changes that might impact on the organization). The more you know about an organization, the better equipped you will be at articulating that you not only understand their needs and challenges, but can also help them respond to some of those needs and challenges.
- A great starting point is the organization’s own website. Also, look at any print or online materials such as annual reports, news releases, articles, or video commentaries. Ideally, you will want to try to speak with individuals who have been associated with either the company or the industry. This latter type of research is called “informational interviewing” (See the Career Centre’s “Steps to Informational Interviewing and Sample Questions” online handout, or attend the Job Search Strategies that Work workshop for more information on this technique).
- Questions: Prepare thoughtful, focused and open-ended questions to ask the employer representatives that demonstrate your interest in and knowledge of the organization.
- Don’t walk up to employer representatives and ask questions such as “What does your company do?” to which you could easily find the answers online or in the organization’s own marketing material. If you are not familiar with the organization, first pick up and read through some of their printed material, listen around you to the questions other job seekers may be asking, plan out what you would like to say to the employer representatives, and then approach them.
- See the Career Centre’s “Questions to Ask an Interviewer” online handout for some suggestions on possible questions for employer representatives.
- Resumes: Take the time to review, update and target your resume. Doing so can help you clearly and convincingly convey that you are a great fit for the job you want.
- If you can find out ahead of time what opportunities exist within the organization, and what needs/challenges it faces, you can more effectively target your resume to address those specific needs and challenges.
- Bring extra copies AND--if you have different interests or job targets--different versions of your resume to the fair.
- Attend the Resumé & Cover Letter Writing workshop offered by the Career Centre
- Business Cards: It's always easier to ask for someone's business card if you have one to give. Business cards can be easier than stacks of resumes for recruiters to manage, and they show foresight and planning. Have them made or make them yourself (see the “Sample Business Cards” online handout). At a career fair, they serve well as "contact cards" on which job seekers and recruiters can write notes about one another to help remind them of their interaction and first impressions. One way to end a conversation is to extend your hand, thank the employer representative for their time, and exchange business cards with them.
- Career Pitch: Prepare and practice your 20-60 second introduction (a.k.a. "career pitch") that outlines some key points about you as a potential candidate. Rehearse your introduction well so that it flows naturally and articulately. Some points to consider as part of your introduction include:
- who you are (name, major, year in school)
- what you can do OR what you have done
- what your relevant strengths, skills, experience and assets are (related to your job target or goals)
- what your goal for the career fair is and why
- Overall Presentation: Your choice of attire, personal grooming and hygiene, and the care (or lack of care) you place in your overall presentation can say a lot about who you are, what is important to you, how seriously you take your job search, and how well you would fit within a specific organization/field.
- Any time you are meeting a prospective employer, you should be dressed professionally. Treat the career fairs or other employer events that you plan on attending like job interviews.
- Prepare your attire in advance; ensure that your clothing is pressed, professional, neat and clean. If you walk up to an employer in a t-shirt, hoodie and leggings while listening to your iPod, what kind of impression do you think the employer will have of you?
- Pack some breath mints or mouth wash for the long day ahead.
- Be mindful of scents or odours on your body or clothing.
- Get a good night’s sleep, and refrain from drinking the night before.
What to Do DURING the Career Fair
- Plan of Action: Devise a plan of action or strategy for the fair. Give yourself time to get your bearings and survey the layout of the fair. Drop by the Career Centre's booth to pick up the most current list of employers attending the fair and then make a targeted list of the organizations whose booth you wish to visit, and determine the order in which you plan to visit each one. Arrive early to avoid having to stand in long lines. Large companies with high profiles will have the longest lines, so if some are on your priority list, you may want to visit them first.
- First Contact: When meeting an employer representative for the first time, attempt to establish rapport and build a connection early on.
- As you approach an organization’s booth, approach with warmth, enthusiasm and confidence. Walk up to the employer representative with your shoulders back and back straight (no slouching). Smile, make eye contact, say hello, offer a firm (not bone-crushing) handshake, state your name, welcome the representative to York University, and share a little about who you are and what you have to offer (delivering your 20-60 second introduction or “Career Pitch” at this point may be helpful).
- Manners: In addition to representing yourself at a career fair, you are also being associated with your department, faculty and York University. Paying careful attention to your manners and professional etiquette can help in ensuring that you leave a positive impression on employer representatives—that you are someone who is professional, socially savvy, respectful, and can potentially represent their organization well.
- Do not monopolize the employer representatives’ time. Demonstrate sensitivity to other job seekers as well as the employers who will be meeting with thousands of students that day by keeping your questions brief, and offering to continue your conversation at a later time.
- Remember not to overstay your welcome. Be mindful of social cues—if the representative starts looking over your shoulder, it may be a sign that it’s time for you to move on.
- Always check with the representatives BEFORE taking materials from their tables, and don’t take materials still packed in boxes. If representatives have goodies or giveaways, don’t be greedy—take only one.
- Be courteous and respectful to EVERYONE at the fair. You never know who you might run into, who may witness your behaviour and interactions at the fair, or who may pass on what they saw or heard to a hiring manager.
- Don’t forget to thank each person—recruiter or job seeker—you speak with for taking the time to talk and share information with you.
- Notes: Although it is very unlikely that you will secure a job at a career fair, you will be sharing and gathering a lot of information that could lead to securing a job at a later date. Keep track of all of this information by making lots of notes to record important details, observations, insights, questions and follow-up or job application instructions gained from the fair.
- Bring a portfolio or professional-looking binder that has easily accessible storage areas to keep your pen, notepad, resumes and business cards, questions to ask, and key factual information that you may need to remember about the organizations of interest to you.
- Some job seekers find it helpful after speaking with employer representatives to use the back of the representatives’ business cards to record notes about their interactions and conversations. Other job seekers prefer to use a job search log to track such details. An important tip: Make your notes while your interactions with employer representatives are still fresh in your mind.
- Network: Engage EVERYONE—recruiter or job seeker—in conversation at the career fair. You never know who may have valuable information, insights or contacts that could help you in your job search.
What to Do AFTER the Career Fair
- Reflect and Review: Career fairs are not only for sharing and gathering information related to job opportunities of interest to you; they also pose valuable opportunities for learning. To get the most out of a career fair and ensure that you walk away having learned some new things, reflect on and review how things went at the career fair for you. Ask yourself questions such as:
- What new information or insights did I gain from the fair about a specific field, organization or job?
- How did my introduction or “career pitch” sound? Does it need to be modified?
- What would I do or say differently at the next career fair I attend?
- What kind of an impression did I make on the employer representatives that I met? Was I able to get across to them what I had intended?
- Record-keeping: Create a system to track all your job search, networking and follow-up efforts, including names of contacts, dates and modes of contact, and outcomes. See the Career Centre’s Tapping into the Hidden Job Market Job Search Record Keeping Sheet for a suggested tracking format.
- Thank You Letters: Within 24 hours after the career fair, send a one-page, personalized and separate thank-you note to each and every one of the employer representatives you met. E-mail is fine but follow formal business letter format; a hand delivered letter may stand out more. Thank you letters serve a variety of purposes:
- To demonstrate that you have good manners and are socially savvy
- To show appreciation for the employer representative’s time, information and interest in you
- To reiterate your interest in a specific opportunity and/or in a specific organization
- To review or remind the employer about your key qualifications or assets that would make you a good fit for a specific position or for their organization
- If you forgot to mention something or want to clarify something discussed at the fair, you can briefly do so in your thank you letter.
- Follow Up: Before you leave an employer representative’s booth at the fair, inform them that you would like to continue the conversation by following up with them at a later date, and ask how they would prefer you to contact them after the fair, and whether there is anything they would like you to send to them.
- Pay close attention to each employer representative’s instructions regarding follow-up. For example, if they ask you send them a copy of your resume, cover letter and transcript within a week, make sure you do so in a timely manner. If they inform you that their preferred mode of contact is via e-mail, then follow up using e-mail only.