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5 ways to nail the career fair – and get the job afterwards

Erin Jordan

It’s that time of year again – career fairs and summer internship applications! It can be a scary, nerve-wracking process, especially the first time around. We’ve provided a couple of tips below to help you feel confident at the career fair – and during the application process afterward to help you go from:



1. DON’T lead with asking what the company does, or ‘is all about’ – it’s definitely okay to ask questions, but don’t go in completely blind. If you’re caught off-guard by a company that looks interesting, step aside and read up in the pamphlet before heading to talk to a representative. Employers are there to meet students who may be a good fit and explain more about the company and its openings, but it can make a bad first impression when you ask questions that are completely unrelated to the company, or have no idea what the company does. A general understanding of the business should be plenty to get the conversation started.

DO come prepared – do research ahead of time to see which employers are attending and identify which you may be most interested in. Most schools provide students with a list of attending employers ahead of time, or at the very least during the fair, so be sure to take advantage and come up with a couple of questions for companies/ jobs you’re most interested in. Just mentioning a small fact about the company or its recent work that shows you aren’t just walking booth-to-booth goes a long way.

Make sure to bring a resume. Having a leave-behind gives employers a place to make notes and something tangible to pass along to the hiring team, even if they’re not directly involved.

Bonus – business cards help young professionals stand out even more and also give you the opportunity to trade with the professionals!

Speaking of which:

2. DON’T wait for the employer to start the conversation – only you know what you want to ask! They are there to answer questions, but confidently walking up to the booth (having questions ahead of time will help with this) and starting a conversation makes it easier to feel comfortable and make the best first impression.

DO ask questions – even if you think you know everything there is possibly to know about the company and the position, ask questions that demonstrate your interest and to help you identify for yourself if the position is a fit. Asking what the employers favorite part about the job is, or if they were an intern at the company, or even what their current role involves, can give you a much better picture of the company culture and responsibilities at the job that aren’t listed in the description.

Make sure to use this time to not only ask questions that give the employer a good feel for whether or not you’re interested in the position, but also help yourself decide. Not every position will be a fit, so determining that ahead of time will help you save time and apply for those positions you’d enjoy more in the long run!

Bonus – ask questions that show you understand the company and what it does and demonstrate that you have been really listening to what they have to say. Lead your questions with information. E.g. I know you mentioned …

This allows you to be successful at avoiding the next one:

3. DON’T just throw down your resume and walk away – while it seems like a good tactic would be to give your resume to as many employers as possible, that’s generally not the case. Just throwing it down and moving on is one of the surest ways to get forgotten in the crowd.

DO share how your skill set makes you a fit for the position – use your questions to create a conversation that demonstrates why your skills are a fit for the company and position. For example, if they say a specific characteristic they look for in a candidate that jumps out at you, make sure to mention why. Maybe you hate typos and they love AP style and grammar nerds. Maybe you’re a master at Final Cut Pro and they want someone who can work with video software.

Make sure to use this time to impress and help them remember your resume. Employers generally receive quite a stack at career fairs, so make sure yours makes a lasting impression.

Bonus – tie your skills into your interests and explain why the job really applies to you.

4. DON’T say you want A job - Of course you want a job – you’re generally inexperienced and unemployed (we know – we’ve been there too and so have most employers). But why do you want THIS job? Why should they hire you, as opposed to other people with the same experience? This is especially applicable when applying to your first (or even first few) internships.

Have experience? It’s still important to demonstrate why you’ve come to determine that this one is a fit for you, based on those experiences.

DO say why you want to work at that company – this sounds like an easy tip, but it goes a long way. What about the company stands out to you? As a PR agency for example, they are all over Chicago. Is it the size, culture, type of work, past projects? Pick something that demonstrates there’s more in it for you than the job itself.

Make sure to express your interest in that specific role as well. Not just the company – but why do you want to take that role at the company? Often companies offer a couple types of internships – so why PR instead of writing, or social media? If you don’t know exactly what you want to do that’s okay! Talk about why you want experience in that area.

Bonus – talk about how you can apply your skills to a certain project or area of practice at the company that they’ve mentioned to help narrate why they’re not a fit for A job, but THE job.

5. DON’T make that the last conversation – standing out at the career fair is important – but making a lasting impression is the ultimate goal and can help get the job!

DO Follow up afterwards – Follow up! Say it was nice to meet them and re-send your resume to make a connection after the event. It’s a good way to re-insert yourself in the application pile and stand out after employers have met several candidates the day before.

Make sure to say thank you. Employers are excited to come and talk to students, but are often taking time out of their work to do so. You probably got some good advice out of it, too!

Bonus – include a sentence or two about why you enjoyed meeting them and what you enjoyed learning. This demonstrates you took something away – and remembered the company specifically from the event. It also helps you stand out as an interested applicant!

In short, think about each booth as a mini informational interview and an opportunity to make long-term connections that can help you throughout your career. In order to make the best use of their time – and yours – while creating a lasting first impression, come prepared to get a better understanding so not only the employer, but also you can determine if the position is the right fit.

Coming prepared helps you spend time gathering specifics on the company, the application process and what the employer looking for, instead of just the general information everyone can find online. Use the time to help you stand out!

Bonus – if you’ve met them before, or have already applied, still stop by! A personal connection will always go a long way.

What else do you want to know, or what did we miss? Sound off in the comments below!