Job Seeker’s Guide to Career Fairs Expert Advice to Finding Job Leads, Meeting Potential Employers & Landing a Job

In the market for a job? Looking to change careers? Want to learn more about exciting companies? Just want to see what’s out there? No matter what stage of work life a person is in – whether just starting out or deep into a sustained career path – career fairs can be a great way to get a feel for what comes next. Career fairs are excellent networking opportunities that just might offer a chance to move into a new industry or position. Read on to learn all about career fairs – as well as their counterpart, the job fair – how to prepare for one, best practices for success and more.

How Job Seekers Are Using Career Fairs to Their Advantage

Job seekers of all stripes have learned that career fairs provide a great advantage when seeking a job, looking to change career paths or seeking to improve their networking among a certain industry. Career fairs allow for a deeper look into a particular field, which can help students make a better determination of their future career path. Attendees can dig deeper into an employer’s overall focus, as well as their particular job descriptions and what it takes to become a success in that particular company. They can also have the opportunity to meet not only recruiters, but some movers and shakers in the industry that might be able to help them work their way up the ladder one day.

Most career fairs focus on a particular field, while job fairs have a much broader representation – a job fair might host dozens of companies all with different slants – however, job seekers will be well-served to attend both when possible, as both have benefits that overlap and serve to assist the savvy job applicant.

FAQ: Understanding Career Fairs & How They Can Benefit You

Understanding what career fairs are and how they can lead to great opportunities is the first step in finding the best ones. Here are the basics.

What are career fairs?

It’s important to remember that job fairs and career fairs are actually two distinctly different events. “While both can be sponsored by a third party, such as a large university, company, government, or nonprofit, career fairs are much broader in scope and less specific in outcome. Career fairs are designed to get applicants interested in a field or company,” says Jason Patel, the founder of Transizion, a college admissions and career services company. “At job fairs, you’re going to sense a bit more urgency from both prospects and recruiters, the latter of which are actively looking for candidates to interview. You’re going to meet leaders from the company who are far more involved with operations and hiring – think department heads, human resources professionals, and others who need to bring on talent to boost team performance. It’s their incentive to recruit the best people.”

What should I expect from my first career fair?

Many students are familiar with the job fair – a multitude of companies with booths set up, looking to speak to and collect resumes from those seeking a job. But career fairs are a little different. “Career fairs are more knowledge-based, which means you’re going to meet general recruiters and professionals more involved in the technical aspect of the business – they aren’t responsible for hiring but can inform you on industry trends, company occurrences, and other general news,” Patel says. “There are career fairs for health professions, business development professionals, engineers, front- and back-end development, the humanities, and many other vectors.”

“Getting your foot in the door and meeting a professional at a career fair is the best way to cultivate future job leads.”

-Jason Patel

How do I sign up to attend a career fair?

Pre-registration for a career fair is usually offered online. Some might require a minimal fee to attend. Be sure to look over the information in flyers, notices and online ads about job fairs to ensure when the registration deadline is; sometimes the fee goes up closer to the date of the fair. For some places, when registration closes, that’s it – nobody else is allowed in.

Where can I find a career fair near me?

There are several great places to find career and job fairs. Of course, the go-to answer is that any student can find a job fair at their college or university; these are often hosted several times per year. Look for flyers and other on-campus or online advertisements for these events.

There are several other options as well, as Jason Patel points out: “First, seek industry-related companies and organizations that host monthly or yearly events. Get on those orgs’ listservs so you can receive regular updates. Second, email an HR team member at a large company and ask about future career-related events. With a little extra digging, emails can be found on company websites. Last, ask a professional about job leads and career fairs.”

What should I bring with me to a career fair?

  • An updated resume on heavy, professional paper
  • A simple, plain folder to hold those resumes
  • Contact cards with name, phone number, email address and other ways to get in touch
  • Notepad and a few pens
  • A small bag, leather folder or case to hold the business cards you collect

“People making a career pivot will like career fairs more, while college students will find job fairs more useful.”

-Jason Patel

12 Tips for Career Fair Success

To make the most of that first impression at a career fair, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Know what you’re getting into.

    Research the career fair well before the big day arrives to figure out exactly what it’s going to include. Some fairs will have numerous booths and a fast-paced atmosphere that allows only for a few minutes with each recruiter. Other fairs will have a bit more time, and might even allow for interviews on the spot. Be prepared for anything.

  • Dress the part.

    Dress well, as if going into work at the job you prefer to have – but at the same time, staying comfortable matters. You’ll be on your feet for several hours, so wear comfortable shoes. Keep clothing simple, check your coat at the door, and don’t carry too much – juggling folders and bags can torpedo a professional look.

  • Body language is half the battle.

    “Human communication is 93% nonverbal and 7% verbal. That means people care more about how you say something than what you actually say,” Patel says. “Keep your next up, chin straight, look the recruiter in the eye, and speak with intention. You never get a second chance at a good first impression.”

  • Research the companies.

    Learn more about the companies, the most interesting projects they are involved in, the kind of jobs they offer and more. When you meet with recruiters, mention the highlights from your research to make it clear you have paid attention. Come armed with a few questions as well.

  • Use the fair as a networking opportunity.

    This is the time to introduce yourself, shake hands, learn new names and faces and ask for business cards. Though job fairs are more focused on landing a position with a great company, career fairs are more about networking and making connections. Either way, make sure to get those names so you can follow up later.

  • Bring a folder with your resume.

    “This is self-explanatory, but you’d be surprised how many people forget this,” Patel says. A good rule of thumb is to bring at least 20 copies of the resume on heavy-bond paper; if it’s a very large fair that will last for many hours, bring more.

  • Know your elevator pitch.

    “Your elevator pitch has two versions – a shortened 10- or 20-second version and a two-minute version. Use the shorter version for career fairs,” Patel advises. “Your elevator pitch should consist of what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. Think about your main qualifications, projects, and top-line experiences that make you a compelling candidate. Finally, perhaps begin your pitch with a hook.”

  • Be prepared for impromptu interviews.

    Some career fairs allow recruiters to sit down for short interviews with attendees who get their attention, so be ready if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets more time. Prepare for interviews just as you would if you were going to the company’s headquarters for a formal sit-down.

  • Be enthusiastic.

    A career fair can turn into a very long day. Make sure you’re on top of your game by packing a small snack or making other arrangements for a short breather away from the main event. Get plenty of rest the night before, and be your best self from the moment you walk into the room. You never know when a spotlight will suddenly be on you.

  • Know what you want.

    “When speaking with a recruiter, you need to carry a conversation. They’re going to speak to dozens or hundreds of people that day. This means you need to occupy their attention span with something far more substantive than small talk. Keep a list of your desired job duties and how your experience fits in with prospective positions,” Patel advised.

  • Don’t forget to listen.

    Yes, you’ll do a lot of talking at a career fair – but you should also do a lot of listening. When asking a recruiter a question, look them in the eye as they give their answer. When others are talking, stand back and listen to what they have to say – you might get tips, news or information that you wouldn’t have known otherwise.

  • Always follow up.

    Whether it’s applying for a job after a job fair, sending out thank-you notes or connecting via email or professional networks with others you met at a career fair, never fade into the ether. Follow up within a matter of days so you stay at the top of someone’s mind.

When putting these tips into practice, remember: “It’s perfectly fine to have limited experience and qualifications as student – this is expected – so, what’s important is how you market yourself,” Patel says. “Hone that elevator pitch, discuss how you’re ahead of the curve for the student, and mention your goals. Professionals like seeing ambition in students, as it’s a signal that the student is willing to work hard for his or her dreams. This makes them a valuable asset to the company.”

Meeting With & Getting Noticed by Job Recruiters: How to Stand Out in a Crowd

  • Walk confidently and offer a firm handshake.

  • Look right at a person when speaking to them. This shows you are paying attention.

  • Hand over your resume right after the handshake. That way you make sure it gets into their hands as you’re talking to them.

  • Choose a few companies as your “warm up” options before going to the recruiters for your “most wanted” job opportunities.

  • When walking away from the discussion, thank the person by name. Showing that you know who they are leaves an excellent final impression.

“Current students should leverage their internship experience when meeting professionals or recruiters at career and job fairs.”

-Jason Patel

Additional Resources for Job Seekers

There are many other ways to search for fantastic jobs, as well as advice on how to score the best interview. Here’s more that serious job hunters need to know.