Design Your Own Experience
Attending a career fair is a low-risk way to practice engaging with employers and to explore what kind of role, organizational culture, or industry might be a good fit for you in your next steps. You can simply attend and browse each employer’s booth to get your feet wet, or you can engage more intentionally with a goal to build your professional network, capture the attention of an employer that is of interest to you, or even interview for a position on the spot (when offered). Each of these approaches require a different kind and level of preparation. Below are some steps to consider as you prepare.
Before the Fair
1. Research participating organizations and their open roles.
By looking at their website, job postings, employer reviews (on Glassdoor or Handshake, for example), etc., do you get a sense of the work this organization does and how it connects to the bigger picture of their field, industry, or sector? A sense of what the organization values, and what their culture is like? A sense of what qualities they would find desirable in candidates for those roles or any role in their organization? If so, do any of them spark your interest or seem like a good fit for you?
Make a list of which employers you would like to prioritize speaking with while at the fair, jot down some notes about what you like about them (a great conversation starting point!), and consider what questions you might be able to ask them. Demonstrating to the employer that you are taking your job search seriously by asking specific questions about their organization or roles, informed by your research, can give you a powerful edge in your search. You can also send your top picks an email expressing your interest ahead of the fair, and mention that you will be in touch with them at the fair.
2. Polish and print your résumé.
Your résumé is a one-page document that you can hand to employers as you speak with them to provide a detailed record of your background, skills, and contact information. See the Career Center’s Résumé Guide for tips and examples, and consider meeting with a career coach or Student Career Assistant (SCA) to get additional support and feedback as you work to make it a high-quality document. Print a minimum of 10 copies to bring with you to the career fair (more is always safer — it is hard to predict how many employers will spark your interest).
3. Polish your LinkedIn profile.
LinkedIn is an online social network platform for professionals. Employers may browse your LinkedIn profile to learn more about you, or even use the messaging feature to chat with you. You may also wish to do the same for employers and their recruiters in order to stay connected as you build your network. Having an accurate, current, and impactful LinkedIn profile can advance your chances of making meaningful connections through LinkedIn. See the Career Center’s guidance on LinkedIn for ways to create or improve your profile, and consider downloading the LinkedIn app to your smartphone so that you can easily connect with employers at the fair through QR codes.
4. Apply for roles to be considered for an on-site interview (optional).
Some career fairs will be structured to support on-site interviews in addition to casual conversations at employer booths. For these career fairs, you can submit an application for a role at a participating organization in the weeks ahead of the fair. Those organizations may review applications prior to the fair and preschedule on-site interviews with applicants of interest to them. If you apply for and receive one of these interview slots, see the Career Center’s Interviewing Guide for advice on how to prepare.
5. Prepare and practice your pitch.
Employers want to learn more about you, but they are also limited on time as they will have many people waiting to speak with them. To make a strong impression on the employer quickly, come prepared to give a 30 second pitch about who you are, your career goals/interests/values, and what interests you in their organization or roles (or, alternatively, what questions/curiosities you have about their organization/roles).
Here is an example: “I’m a junior at Carleton College, studying art history. When I was looking at your organization’s website, I was intrigued by your museum studies internship program. It reminded me of the public humanities work I have been involved in and would like to continue to support in my next steps in my career. I’m curious, what kinds of candidates do well in your internship program?”
6. Plan your outfit and supplies.
Many employer representatives will be wearing “business professional” attire. This often means they will be dressed in business suits. Some with more relaxed company cultures may opt more for “business casual” attire. While these standards exist, professional dress is a highly personalized choice. See the Career Center’s Weekly News email from Winter 2022, Week #2 for advice on how to decide what professional dress means to you, and select something that you will be comfortable wearing in front of these employers. Make sure to bring a folder or padfolio, notepaper, and a pen to help you take notes and carry your résumé copies and other documents you might gather. A comfortable bag to wear can also be helpful.
During the Fair
- Check in at the registration desk when you arrive. Grab your nametag, if available.
- Give yourself time to take a breath, move around the main room and observe, get used to the environment. There will be many employer booths lined up next to each other in one or two large rooms.
- Have employers you are especially excited about? Don’t visit them first. Warm up by having conversations with those you are less excited about first.
- Making eye contact with an employer representative at a booth can encourage the start of a conversation. To avoid conversation, avoid eye contact as you pass.
- Before approaching the employer’s booth, refer to your notes from your research on the organization and roles to refresh your memory. What did you like about them? What questions did you have for them?
- You can start the conversation. Consider saying hello and then giving your 30 second pitch as a starter.
- See the Career Center’s Weekly News from Winter 2022, Week #1 for tips on how to navigate what may feel like an awkward conversation.
- Before your conversation ends, ask for ways to stay in touch with them (e.g., a business card or connecting on LinkedIn) and thank them for their time.
- As you walk away, jot down notes about what you discussed and any next steps you would like to take. Taking notes after each conversation can help you keep details connected to each employer.
- Take as many breaks as you need.
After the Fair
- Within 24 hours, send a thank you note (email, LinkedIn message, or even handwritten note) to the employer representatives with whom you would like to maintain a relationship. Personalize that note by mentioning something you discussed at the fair, and consider asking any additional questions that come to mind or inquiring about next steps.
- Complete online applications for organizations that requested you to do so.