If you've ever wondered whether career fairs are worth the hassle or how you could possibly stand out from the sea of students, we've got you.
But first, what are career fairs?
A career fair, also known as a "job fair" or "career expo," is a gathering where employers come to a university campus to meet with students like yourself. The goal? To provide information about their company and its opportunities – and if they're lucky scope out promising future interns and graduate employees!
Most universities regularly host career fairs throughout the year. These events are often organised by the university's career services department or student organisations. So whether you're studying arts, sciences, business, or engineering, there's a good chance that a career fair is on your university's calendar.
Are career fairs worth it?
Career fairs are absolutely worth it – no, not just because of all the free swag you'll get.
If you already know what employers you want to apply to
- You can use career fairs to vibe-check the employer before applying: Meeting employers at a career fair is a chance for you to check them out – before you go through all the work of applying.
- You'll get face time with employers: In an era where most of our job searches take place online, career fairs provide a rare opportunity to meet employers face-to-face and show them who you are beyond your CV. Leave a positive impression and you could land a job or internship down the line!
- You can ask your most burning questions: If you've found an employer you're interested, chances are you have a bunch of questions for them. Career fairs are a great way to get those questions answered directly from the source.
If you don't know yet
In general, career fairs are a great chance to practice your professionalism.
- You'll finally make that CV: Yup, we know you've been putting this off. An upcoming job fair might be exactly what you need to finally crank out that winning CV.
- You can sharpen your networking skills: If you gave recruiters a dollar for every awkward chat they've had with students, they'd all be multi-billionaires. School doesn't prepare you to network or even hold a conversation in a professional setting. So use career fairs as your training ground!
- You'll get free interview practice: You can also think of career fairs as practice for future interviews. You're doing the same, unnerving thing: talking to recruiters in an uncomfortable setting. So treat it as a rehearsal before you're in the hot seat for real!
Plus, this may be the only time in your life when a career fair can help you land a job, so take advantage of it while you can!
How to stand out at a career fair
Here are five easy ways you can stand out at a career fair, according to recruiters and grads.
#1 Look up the employers beforehand
- Looking into employers beforehand is almost a guaranteed way to stand out from the crowd, because most people don't do it! They stroll up to an employer's booth and ask, "So, what do you do?" or "What jobs do you have for me?" These days, information like that is just a search away, so asking questions like these is like saying that you don't care.
- Look up the employers online and decide which ones you want to meet. Then, research your target employers, making sure you know all about them and why you would want to work for them. (Hint: You can check out an employer's profile on Prosple to get the low-down on them.)
- To help narrow down your options, you can also see which employers are actually hiring grads and interns (Again, you can check their profile on Prosple to find out). Believe it or not, some employers go just for branding reasons (i.e. hand out free swag), so if you're going to the career fair expressly to land a job or internship, you'll want to skip these.
📣 Hear from a recruiter
So [when] people walk up to the table, they first ask, "What does your company do?" I give them the spiel for the 85th time that night and they ask, "What roles are you hiring for?" [to] which I respond, "All kinds of roles. "What roles are you looking for?" At which point, so incredibly often ... They go, "Well, I'm not sure. ... maybe something in marketing or maybe a finance role." At this point, I'm gonna be real with you, I definitely know we're not going to hire that person. – HR professional
#2 Arrive early
- As the event progresses, recruiters start to lose their voices and – dare we say – a smidgen of their enthusiasm. So the earlier you go, the better!
📣 Hear from a grad
Here is the BEST piece of advice I’ve ever received when it comes to attending career fairs or networking events: Be an early bird and beat the crowd! By being one of the first through the door, you won’t have to wait around for other students to finish asking their questions. ... You can [also] have longer, more meaningful one-on-one discussions with the person of interest. – Former graduate in Private Equity
#3 Enjoy the conversation
- At career fairs, students tend to be so nervous, they can't hold a normal conversation. So one simple way to stand out is to just be yourself. Chat with the recruiter like you might talk to a friend's parent.
- At the entry level, most employers are gauging whether you're someone they could work with 40 hours a week. So just focus on having a conversation. They'll remember you for it – more so than the repetitive elevator pitches they heard from every other desperate student.
- If you don't know know to make enjoyable conversation with strangers (aka "networking"), use the career fair as practice!
📣 Hear from a recruiter
Very rarely do I get someone at my booth that can actually hold a normal conversation. Running up to me, and then immediately rattling off every technical thing you've ever done in your life, and then going into the implementation details of your latest project is not what normal humans do when they meet each other for the first time. – Campus recruiter
#4 Meet some employers who aren't on your list
- It's easier to stand out when there's no competition. Check out some employers who don't have a ton of students waiting in line, and you might actually find a gem!
- If you feel jittery, talking to these less popular employers is a good way to warm up. Use them to get comfortable and confident enough to be yourself. Then go approach your top choices!
📣 Hear from a grad
Go to the booths that don't have a crowd. Just because you've never heard of a company doesn't mean they aren't a good place to work. They're much more likely to remember you for a next-day interview. – Former graduate
#5 Follow-up after the event
- If you have a fantastic meeting with an employer during a fair but don’t follow up, there’s a strong chance they will forget you amidst the sea of people they spoke to at the fair. Whereas if you take five minutes to reach out and thank a recruiter, you differentiate yourself from the hundreds of others they spoke to that day, making yourself a much more attractive candidate.
- So send a thank-you note to each recruiter that you met during the career fair. You can do this by dropping them an email or a message on Linkedin along with an invitation to connect. By reaching out, you make yourself seem like a communicative, ambitious candidate with initiative - three of the most desirable traits for employers.
- Go the extra mile for people with whom you shared the most memorable discussions, making sure to mention something unique to your chat that might help jog their memory. For example, if you mentioned a website you made, send a link to it in your follow-up message.
📣 Hear from a recruiter
I do three career fairs, one right after the other, every September. I don't care how memorable someone is - if they don't follow-up with me, and they don't apply, they're not going to be able to be considered for a position. – Campus recruiter
Scripts you can use during and after the career fair
Scripts you can use to approach employers
Here's a formula for what to say when approaching an employer:
- Introduce yourself
- Say why you're interested in the employer and/or a specific role
- Highlight relevant skills & experiences
- Ask insightful questions that can't be answered from their website
Let's see this in action!
Here's what you might say if you're a business student interested in a marketing role:
I'm Pat, a final-year business student. I've been keenly following [Employer Name] and I'm particularly interested in your graduate program in marketing. I've had hands-on experience leading data-driven marketing campaigns during my internship. Could you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of a marketing grad at [Employer Name]?
And here's what you might say if you're a psychology student interested in a HR role:
Hey there! I'm Jamie, and I'm in the final stretch of my psychology degree. I've been really intrigued by [Employer Name]'s HR graduate program, especially because it aligns so well with my interest in workplace psychology and employee well-being. Could you let me know what skills and characteristics you look for in your ideal candidate?
Here's an example of what a Computer Science major interested in cybersecurity might say:
Hi there, my name's Alex. I'm studying Computer Science in my final year and I have a keen interest in cybersecurity. I've been following [Employer Name]'s work in this area for a while now and I find it really inspiring. I'm particularly interested in the ways AI can be used to enhance cybersecurity. Is that something [Employer Name] works on?
Sample follow-up message
I'm [Your Name] – it was great chatting with you yesterday at the [University's Name] career fair.
I learned a lot about [specific topic you discussed], I'm definitely keen to work at [Company Name] as a [title].
As promised, here's my resume for your review. I look forward to applying when applications open and hope our paths cross down the line too!
What if I can't make it to an in-person career fair?
Employers also go to virtual career fairs, so you can check those out too. Here are our best tips –
- Dress to impress! Commit to professional attire from head to toe. While it’s true that employers will only see your face, a confident demeanour shows even better when you put on a polished outfit. That’s not something you can achieve with a pair of sweatpants.
- Choose a neutral background (real or virtual) with as few distractions as possible. You want the employer to focus on you and not wander through a myriad of things behind you. Check out this instructional video on how to look good on a webcam.
- Pick up on non-verbal cues on when to ask questions, which usually happen towards the end of a meeting. Don’t forget to look directly at the camera’s lens from time to time. This is equivalent to maintaining eye contact.
But remember: even if you don't go to a career fair at all, you can still apply directly to an employer's jobs and opportunities here at Prosple. (Hint: We're actually their favourite channel for recruiting grads!) 😎
Just try to make other opportunities to connect with people from the company – we promise, it'll be worth it.