7 Things to Know BEFORE You Walk Into a Career Fair

This post is part of TNGG’s Career Week

Monster.com’s HotJobs page cited Abby Kohut, owner of the consulting firm Staffing Symphony, saying, “A career fair is an interview in disguise. You have 30 seconds or less to tell the recruiters about yourself, quickly capture their attention, and entice them to want to learn more.” Your initial presentation of yourself can be what makes or breaks you when it comes to your resume landing in the “yes” pile.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Which companies are there

The best strategy you can employ is prioritizing. Before you set foot in the building, you need to have researched what companies will be in attendance and a little something about them. This enables you to make a list of your top choices so you can plan to stop by when you’re fresh and in your best mindset. You can’t walk in there intending to stop by every single booth. Picking your top choices will also limit feelings of being overwhelmed and allow to you plan for plenty of time at each company’s booth, making you feel less rushed and more relaxed.

2. Your Elevator Speech

This is also referred to as the “me” speech. I prefer “elevator” because it’s intended to take you the average time that a ride in an elevator would take. Since I can be somewhat chatty, it is important that I remind myself to keep things simple, short, and to the point. The elevator speech is about 30 seconds long and is intended to tell the potential employer a little about you.  You want to give a quick snapshot into who you are and what you are all about. It is best to have this memorized so it comes off comfortably (though not rehearsed). Trust me, you will get asked this…A LOT. Mine went something like:

“My name is Casey Schoelen and I’m a senior in the Price College of Business. My major is marketing with a minor in advertising. I am hard working, reliable, and determined. I pride myself on being honest and accountable. I really enjoy spending time with friends, reading, traveling, and college football.”

3. The Strengths of Your Resume

It is important that you attend the career fair with a resume, and it should be printed on actual resume paper. You want to look professional, not lazy. This being said, you need to know your resume backwards and forwards. This may seem obvious, but several times I have seen a classmate go up to an employer, get involved in a discussion, and miss perfect opportunities to point out a highlight on their resume that ties in with the company or expresses a common interest. This happens a lot when candidates have strong and complicated resumes. You don’t want to let a slip of the mind exclude something that will help set you a part from everyone else at the career fair.

4. How to Adapt

Each company is different in some way, be it their culture, business model, or organization. Every company has a different mission and goal. It is crucial that in understanding your resume and yourself, you be able to adapt quickly. Just as you want to showcase yourself at the career fair, companies want to do the same. You need to be able to quickly recognize connections with companies and adapt yourself accordingly. Your goal should be to show them that you would fit in and that you have what they are looking for. Beth Hering of careerbuilder.com explains that “Smart job seekers are not ‘tire kickers.’ They focus on the needs of the employer and demonstrate how they are perfect for this particular position.”

5. Be Confident, Not Cocky

Employers appreciate candidates who are cool and calm. They want them to be confident, but not cocky. You need to remember strong, positive body language. This includes posture, stance, and remembering to breathe between words. It can often be difficult considering many career fairs are crowded, busy, and loud. It should be simple to remain at ease if you know your resume, know yourself, and know what you want in an employer. It is useful to be able know enough about a company to ask them specific questions. It shows them that you are interested and also comes off as confident. You’re bold enough to ask them challenging questions because you genuinely are interested in the company and what it is like to be an employee.

6. No “Dead Fish” Handshakes

DUH. But it’s worth mentioning. Nothing makes a situation worse than a bad handshake. Women should not be afraid to be a little assertive and give a full handshake. Men should not be afraid of shaking a woman’s hand. Many times students give a half-assed, dainty little handshakes that can be interpreted as disrespectful. Also, ALWAYS make eye contact and smile. This is where their first impression of you begins.

7. Never Show Desperation

There is a nice gray area that looms over the career fair. Given the poor state of the economy and the job market, it is easy to get lost in despair and decide you are willing to do anything for anyone. Even if this is the case, you must never show your desperation. Everyone wants a job, but the trick is to come off as very interested and maybe even eager, but not that you’re about to get down on your knees and beg. Even if you would lie in front of their cars in the parking lot to get a job offer, never EVER show it.

Photo by uwgb admissions

Casey Schoelen I am a recent college graduate trying to figure out my next step in life. Until then, I'm living life day by day. I'm enjoying spending time with my friends and family, doing some traveling and relaxing, and finally reading a book for fun for the first time in years. I am extremely outgoing and love meeting new people. Everyone has their own exciting story to share. I love traveling, sports, history, reading, Europe, cooking, and reality television. Some of my goals are to visit all seven continents, learn another language, and see the north pole. Every day is the chance for a new adventure.

View all posts by Casey Schoelen

2 Responses to “7 Things to Know BEFORE You Walk Into a Career Fair”

  1. Lindsay

    It’s important to have a good handshake and body language, but at the same time you also have to be aware that a person might have cultural reasons for not shaking hands – I know some Muslims who don’t make physical contact between men and women because it’s against the way they interpret Islam. As a woman, I general take physical cues from the other person when I anticipate this might be the case.


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