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How to Prepare for a Job Fair

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Career fair anxiety is a real thing. Students often wonder how to prepare for a job fair and fighting anxiety starts by gathering information.   

I love national convention job fairs.

My time as a campus recruiter often took me to various networking events around the U.S., but nothing was more fun and energetic than the giant career fairs. Organizations like ASCEND, NBMBAA and SHPE put on large career events every year that attract talented students, new grads and experienced professionals from around the country and also match them with top employers.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about here, The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing hosted 18,000 opportunity seekers last year in Orlando, Florida – I was there! It was amazing to meet so many talented people at our career fair booth. But therein lies a potential challenge for you, the opportunity seeker: There are 17,999 others looking for the same thing.

My approach to teaching students about career search strategies is to show them how to think like a recruiter. By understanding how companies form their strategies for hiring talent, opportunity seekers give themselves a strong competitive advantage in the game. The most important thing to remember is this: Companies spend lots of time and money on these big events, and they only consider themselves successful if they come back home with lots of accepted offers from candidates. Like any good business, a return on the marketing spend is a must.

With fall recruiting just around the corner and registration already open for many of these networking events, I wanted to share a few ideas on how you can increase your chances of walking away with multiple offers from the top companies in attendance.

Photo from Last Call Career Fair, April 2018

So – you learned about one of these events coming up, and you got yourself registered to attend. Congrats! Now what?

10 steps to prepare for a job fair

1 – First things first. 

You need to set up a solid strategy for the week. In many cases, these events can last Monday through Saturday, so planning ahead is very important. Watch the event website and social media for information release dates. This information may include featured speakers, companies, career fair maps and schedules.

2 - Take some time and review the companies that will be attending. 

Research their career sites to find any clues about what they might be hiring for. If you find something interesting, apply! The goal here is to narrow your search to companies that you’re interested in. You don’t want to waste time wandering around the convention floor, looking for the shortest lines. Once you get a map of the event, figure out the best way to navigate the floor based on your company preferences. Go into this event with a purpose.

3 – Keep smaller/unknown companies in mind.

The company I was working for was not particularly known for recruiting talent with STEM degrees, but further research into the company would paint a different picture. They were a well established organization with strong financial resources, and were trying to build up their technical areas. The interns and full-time hires that we made were going to have an opportunity to shape the culture of the business and get their talents noticed. That’s not always something you can find in other companies, especially those that are very well known in their industries. Additionally, these companies usually have shorter lines, so you have a better chance of meeting a decision maker.

4 – Research LinkedIn and locate potential recruiters and hiring managers.

If you can find people from the campus recruiting team, chances are you’ll see them in person at the convention. Connect and follow their updates. Sometimes they post great tips and tricks to being successful at their booth.

5 - Check the event website for a career portal that you can submit your resume to. 

A month or so before the event date, companies will sometimes gain access to a database of information on all the people attending, AND their resumes. Since recruiters want to be the first to reach you before everyone else, they may contact you via phone or email to set up an interview, or to personally invite you to their booth for a chat. If they can start the career fair on day one with a full day of interviews scheduled, they will see that as a great beginning to their recruiting efforts. Side note: make sure you’re checking your voicemail and emails!

6 – Adjust your resume and elevator pitch to your target companies.

As noted before, you should have a solid idea of what their story is and what they’re hiring for. Organize your resumes into a binder that you can easily sift through while walking the convention floor. There’s nothing worse than being next in line and not being able to find the right resume.

7 – Check social media for special events like breakout sessions and happy hours. 

Sometimes it seems hard to break away from the hustle and bustle of the career fair because you think you’re going to miss something important. While you’re worried about that, your competition is hanging out in a quieter back room with free food and company employees. Breakout sessions and happy hours are organized by companies to give themselves a more intimate opportunity to win you over as a candidate. That’s right! They know the top talent has options, and they want to make sure you get some great information about their company. These events are fantastic places to network, especially because the hosts often pull in their executives to present the information.

8 – Be prepared to interview on the spot!

Since companies are trying their best to draw in the top talent before others do, it’s not uncommon to have interviews right at the career booth. These larger conventions will sometimes have special areas designated for interviewing candidates. These are often an extra cost for employers attending the event, so you can bet they want to use them to their full advantage.

9 – Stay energized and focused.

These events can quickly turn into a grueling endurance test. I’ve definitely noticed those attendees who only slept two hours the night before because they were having fun in a new city. I get it, trust me. But you must stay focused if you want to win here. Fuel up on the proper food and drink, and don’t let distractions pull you away from your goal: to land that internship or full-time career.

If you come out with multiple offers, congratulations! Now is the time to review all the information and make a decision. Make sure you have the offer in writing, including the expiration date. It’s best to know how long you have until they want a response from you. If you’re a JSOM student, keep in mind the Code of Ethics, and stop into the Career Management Center if you need help before officially accepting your big opportunity!  

If you get an interview, and it happens to be a virtual one, read my blog with video-interview tips to prepare and land that job. 

Jason Cirilo

Jason Cirilo

Jason Cirilo is a career development specialist and lecturer in the Naveen Jindal School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas. He serves students through classroom instruction, workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions in order to share his knowledge of corporate recruiting strategy and professional development.

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