Career fairs are great places to get hired – especially if you’re in college, recently out of college, or part of another organization putting on a career fair. At any given career fair, there are dozens or hundreds of jobs, just waiting to be harvested.
Below, I’ll share a an overview of the process, including:
- How to succeed at a career fair
- How to prepare for a career fair
- What to do at a career fair
- How to follow up after a career fair
- How to approach career fairs if you’re introverted and hate networking
Or you can skip straight to templates and sample language to use:
- Interview people who’ve recruited for these companies and roles
- How to introduce yourself to recruiters at a career fair
- What to say to recruiters at a career fair
- What questions to ask at a career fair
- Template follow up email after a career fair
- Template follow up email after an informational interview
- Email template to a job fair recruiter when you apply
What is a career fair?
A career or job fair is a marketplace where you (the job seeker) are the product, and the recruiter (and their companies, doing the hiring) are the customers.
From the recruiter’s perspective, you (and all the other job seekers) are commodities with a lot of potential, like raw gemstones. The reason a job fair works is because you can attract a lot of similar talent, and sift through them to find the best fit for jobs that don’t require a lot of prior knowledge but that, within their company, could become incredibly valuable.
Are career fairs worth it?
If career fairs are markets built for companies, are they worth it for you, the job seeker?
The key thing to realize is that all of the recruiters are customers, constantly asking themselves, “does this person feel like a good fit for our company?” based on very little actual data about you. Typically, they choose places to recruit that have been effective in the past, so they know there’s a lot of good product and are just trying to entice you to apply so their recruiting process can identify the right people for their roles.
This is good news if you prepare: the career fair – and the entire recruiting process – is a game. Many people playing don’t even know the rules, so if you learn them, you can kill it.
How to succeed at a career fair
A career fair is an opportunity to make an impression so you’ll stand out in their hiring process. You can measure your success with two numbers:
- How many jobs did you apply for?
- How many recruiters did you speak with and:
- Sound generally intelligent
- Ask a specific question that shows you did your homework
- Get their contact information
- Follow up with a memorable email
Another benefit of going is the opportunity to learn about jobs and companies. But, if you do a good job preparing beforehand, you’ll go in laser-focused on making a good impression.
Remember, career fairs are looking for “uncut gems” – people with more potential than actual skills. So success means convincing them that you’re a good fit for their company:
- You do the homework (so will be hardworking and conscientious as an employee)
- You’re someone they would enjoy spending time with
- You’re smart and thoughtful – you ask good questions, and can respond thoughtfully
How to prepare for a career fair
Decide what roles you want to apply for
Before anything else, get a sense for the type of work you’d like to do. Here are a few tips to explore what is possible:
- You can explore different roles in tech here.
- If you’re a student, visit career services for information on different job options post-graduation.
- For other fields, search LinkedIn for people you know or who’ve attended your school.
- Explore entry-level jobs on career sites like Glassdoor or Indeed.
You can also follow this step-by-step process to think through your dream job, and identify roles that point you in the right direction.
Research what companies will attend
Once you have a sense for the jobs you’re interested in, find out what companies will attend:
- Visit the career fair website to look for a list of what companies are attending
- Ask the career fair’s organizer if they could share a list, if a comprehensive list isn’t posted,
- Look at the job postings associated with the career fair or the school career services office (or the organization hosting the fair)
- Create a spreadsheet, and add all the jobs and companies you’re interested in to a spreadsheet (and include the people representing these companies, if available). Later on, you’ll use this to plan out whom to meet and what questions to ask.
Interview people who’ve recruited for these companies and roles
Use your spreadsheet to reach out to people who will be attending the fair, or to find people in the roles you’re interested in applying for. You can use this guide to set up informational interviews with them.
Tap your network, use LinkedIn to find people one or two years ahead in your school or program, and ask the career fair organizers for a list of people who’ve gotten jobs in the past that you can reach out to.
Then ask them:
- Tell me about how you spend your time – what’s a typical day like for you?
- What activities do you spend time doing? Which ones give you the most energy? Which ones drain your energy?
- What are some of the projects you’ve done? What are the outcomes, and how do they fit into the broader business?
- What are the most important skills for doing the job? If you were hiring someone for your job, what would you look for?
- How would you describe what the company does?
- How would you describe how your team fits into that?
- What are the biggest challenges at the company that you’re working on right now? How is your work related to the bigger picture?
List specific questions about each company or person
Now, go back to your spreadsheet of companies and job postings.
For each company or role and for each person who’ll be attending, list add a simple description of what they do, to refer to during the career fair. Then add one specific question you could ask them, to show you’ve done your homework.
These questions could include:
- Details about a project someone has listed on LinkedIn
- Ideas based on someone’s writing (from blogs on LinkedIn, Medium or a personal site, or from Twitter or other public social media)
- Ideas based on someone’s personal interests based from social media or other research
- Questions inspired by your informational interviews that could focus on the key priorities for the company or anything else interesting that comes up
- Questions based on research about the company (like their strategy, business model, or priorities going forward)
Prepare a few talking points about yourself
Don’t wing it when meeting recruiters. They’ll tend to ask a few questions, so make sure you have concise, memorable answers to questions like:
- Who are you?
- Why are you interested in their role?
- Why are you interested in their company?
Here’s a checklist to make sure you develop a good answer:
- Keep it brief. 30 seconds or less.
- Answer first, details after. Answer the question in the first sentence, and then elaborate.
- Establish credibility with your accomplishments. If you’ve accomplished something interesting or impressive, work it into your response and be quantitative and precise. Don’t undersell, because recruiters will always assume you’re over-representing what you’ve accomplished.
- Keep it focused. You’re a complex person, but now’s not the time to show that. When answering, only tell parts of your story that make it obvious why you’d be a great fit for their company and role.
- Stand out. The one exception to focus is to try and weave one unusual interest or accomplishment into your conversation – think of it as a “hook” or an “anchor” for the recruiter’s memory. Then, when you follow up, you can remind them of you by mentioning the hook.
- Be original. When practicing your responses, record yourself or write down versions. Then remove anything that someone else could easily say. You want your answers to be things that only you could say.
Research what to wear to the career fair
Finally, make sure you understand what is expected at the career fair. Typically, this depends on the industry and types of jobs you’re interested in (for example, finance and consulting will be more formal, while startups will be the least formal). But your safest bet is to check the career fair website or ask the organizer.
What to do at a career fair
Remember, your goal is to talk to people at every company where you want to apply, to stand out positively, and to be able to reach out later to ensure your job application has the best chance of making it through.
How to stand out at a career fair
To stand out at a career fair, you need to do XX things:
- Don’t waste time with jobs you don’t want.
- Be the only one talking to a recruiter. Don’t stand in a circle or a line to wait to talk to a recruiter. If they’re busy, come back after visiting your priority companies that are free.
- Prove you’ve done your homework with a question that shows prior research.
- Learn about what the job entails beforehand so you can be ready to talk intelligently.
- Prepare some basic talking points and responses about yourself.
- Avoid topics that reflect badly on you, like asking about how competitive the job is or if they accept applications with lower GPAs.
- Have good questions to get them talking.
- Follow up afterwards.
When to go to a career fair
First off, try to go at times when other people won’t be there. If you visit at peak time, you’ll be one of a gaggle of other students competing for time and attention. If you visit when no one else is there, you’ll have the recruiter to yourself.
Here are a few tips to find the best time:
- Go early, especially if the fair starts in the morning.
- Stay till the end in case people leave early
- Ask the organizers when it is busiest
- Go when other people can’t – if it’s during the workday or when other people are in classes, take time off to attend during those hours
How to introduce yourself to recruiters at a career fair
If you’re not sure how to talk to recruiters at a career fair, don’t worry. They want to talk with you.
A recruiter’s job and reason for coming is to meet people and find candidates who will be a great fit for their company. By introducing yourself, you’re helping them out – especially if they’re not talking to anyone.
Before talking with any recruiters, scopy out the fair. See where all the booths are set up, and which are busy and are empty. If any of your top priority companies or jobs are empty, head there first. Otherwise, focus on jobs on your list that don’t have other people so you can stand out as the only one talking to a recruiter.
To start a conversation, walk up to a recruiter, wave, and say, “Hi, I’m [YOUR NAME].”
Then they’ll probably reply. Then you can say, “I’m really interested in [THEIR COMPANY] and wanted to learn a little bit more about it.
Then, after a little small talk, use your talking points to introduce yourself and explain why you’re interested in their company:
Hi, I’m Taylor and am really excited about working for Google. I’ve studied design and computer science, and built an app that has gotten 100,000 as part of a project that I worked on last summer. I’m really interested in the APM program and would love to learn more about it, and about your experience at Google.
What to say at a career fair
After introducing yourself, a recruiter might ask you some questions like:
- What do you study?
- What are some other things you’re interested in?
- Why are you interested in our company?
- Why are you interested in this role?
- Have you worked on any related projects before?
- Do you have any questions?
When responding to these questions, just keep it short and try to add a unique detail. For example, if they ask what you study:
- Don’t say: Anthropology.
- Do say: I study Anthropology – particularly how people make decisions about when and where to get healthcare treatment in Rwanda.
That way, you’ve planted a seed for them to remember you, and you’ve also given them an obvious follow-up question to ask: How did you get interested in Rwanda?
If you have time, this will lead to an authentic conversation where you can explain whatever you’re most interested in, and they’ll be way more likely to remember you among the sea of anonymous anthropology majors.
What questions to ask at a career fair
When talking to a recruiter, ask the specific question you prepared about them or their company.
You can also ask more generic questions about them, their company, or their role (similar to the questions you used during your informational interviews):
- How did you get into this role?
- What’s your favorite project that you’re working on now?
- What characteristics is your team looking for in this job?
- (For companies that make a product — not professional service) I’ve been reading up about the company and was curious: what is the team’s main priority over the next year? Could you share how that fits into the company strategy?
And, finally, always finish your conversation with a thank-you and a question:
Thank you so much for speaking with me – I’m really excited about applying for the role. Would it be OK if I reach out later if I have any additional questions? (And, if necessary: Could I get your email?)
This sets you up to follow-up after the career fair is over.
How to take notes after talking with recruiters at a career fair
After each conversation, add the most important things you discussed to your spreadsheet.
Make sure to include:
- The name of the recruiter you spoke with
- Personal information they told you
- Anything interesting you discussed
- What you learned about the company and role]
This way, when it’s time to send a follow up email after the career fair, you’ll know exactly what to include for each person you spoke with.
How to follow up after career fair
If you don’t send a follow up email after speaking with a recruiter, you might as well not have spoken with them.
When to write a follow up email after a career fair
Anytime within 2 days is good to send a follow up email, but just send it the day of. That way, you don’t forget, and no one’s going to think, “This person was TOO diligent and responsible.”
How to write a follow up email after a career fair
Your follow up email after meeting a recruiter should:
- Remind them who you are because they won’t remember you
- Thank them for something you learned
- Tell them you’re applying so they’ll know to flag you
- Ask if they’re open to an informational interview if they’ve done the job you’re applying for (if they’re a professional recruiter, you can skip this step)
- Link to your LinkedIn profile, so they can see your accomplishments
- Include a headshot after your signature, taken the day of the career fair, so they connect who you are
Including these elements makes sure recruiters remember who you are and think to flag your application.
Template follow up email after a career fair
Here’s a sample email you can use as a template job fair follow up:
Hi [RECRUITER NAME],
It’s Taylor from the career fair. (I’m the one who studies healthcare in Rwanda and is interested in the APM role.)
Thanks again for speaking with me today at the career fair – I really appreciated [INSERT SOMETHING YOU LEARNED AND NOTED DOWN AFTER SPEAKING WITH THEM]. The [INSERT DETAILS ABOUT THE ROLE] is exciting for me, and I’ll definitely be applying.
One quick question: since you’ve actually done this role, would you be open to an informational interview in the next week or two? (If so, you can book time here [INSERT LINK], or let me know a few times that work, and I’ll adjust my schedule).
[INSERT YOUR LINKEDIN]
[INSERT A PHOTO OF YOU, TAKEN TODAY]
Template follow up email after an informational interview
After you conduct an informational interview (see here for a complete guide on how to do it), you can follow up with a thank you email.
Your goal here is to be as memorable as possible, so the person you spoke with will flag your application for special attention. One tactic is to study their social media to find something they’re interested in, so you can send a small gift certificate (like for great coffee, nice chocolate, a puzzle, a book or something else personal to them).
Here’s a template thank you email to send after an informational interview:
Hi [INSERT NAME],
Thank you so much for speaking today!
I learned a ton about the role and company — especially [INSERT SOMETHING REALLY USEFUL OR MEMORABLE]. It made me even more excited about the [INSERT ROLE] role and [INSERT COMPANY NAME] in general.
As a tiny, inadequate expression of my thanks, I wanted to send you a [INSERT GIFT TYPE]. Thank you so much.
Template email to a job fair recruiter when you apply
If the application deadline is not immediately following the job fair, make sure to send a note telling the recruiter you met that you decided to apply. This way, they can flag your application, and increase your chance of getting an interview:
Hi [INSERT NAME],
Taylor here from the [INSERT CAREER FAIR NAME] career fair. As a reminder, that’s me👇:
We spoke about [INSERT MEMORABLE TOPIC]. Since speaking, I’ve done more research about the company and role. I wanted to let you know that I just sent in my application – thanks again for your help!
Career fairs for introverts: what to do at a career fair if you hate networking
What to do at a job fair if you hate networking
Here are some tips for the introverts out there:
- Remember that recruiters want to talk to you. You’re not an imposition – you’re the whole reason recruiters show up. Speaking with them is doing them a favor.
- Rehearse your introduction up-front. Practice can give you confidence.
- Only apply to companies and jobs that excite you. This way, you can genuinely tell recruiters how excited you are, and rely on your interest to prompt questions and engagement.
- Skip the line. If you focus on companies without a big line, it takes the pressure off and creates space for a more enjoyable interaction.
- Focus on learning. Just try to learn as much as you can by talking to people. Ask questions to understand their roles and companies, and focus on the one-on-one interaction, rather than the pressure of “networking.”
- Just collect cards. If there’s a big crowd and trying to break through to introduce yourself gives you anxiety, just grab a card and go to the next booth. You can always follow up and ask for an informational interview (or even pretend like you met them).
How to skip the career fair and apply anyway
If this guide sounds like a nightmare to you, it’s OK. You can skip the career fair, and it’s not the end of the world.
There are two good alternatives to going through the entire career fair:
- Get contact information from a friend who went or from the fair organizer, and follow up directly.
- Pretend you were there. If you’re daring, you can mention meeting people and bank on the fact that they won’t remember everyone’s names anyway.
Pursue an informational interview approach. Just skip the fair and focus on informational interviews at companies represented at the fair.