How To Survive a Career Fair and Get a Job Afterwards
Last week while speaking to Purdue University students at the Doster Leadership, I took part in their career fair. They invited recruiters and hiring managers from top companies looking to hire Purdue grads. Since I had a booth, many of the students were coming to me first to ask me career fair questions before they went to the employers.
Disclosure: I never went to career fairs in college. Why? Because I was too scared to do it. My only experience was at an MBA fair when I asked one of the representatives, “What are you looking for in an MBA candidate at your school?” I thought this was a really good question to ask, but the response I got made me never want to go to any type of fair situation again.  She said, “That is a terrible question to ask and you should go look at our website. Good-bye.”
That experience instilled a fear of anything career fair related. So this post is for you if you are scared to death of going to a career fair. Unfortunately, the people who make the most of these career fairs are those that get the best opportunities. I know that I am best one-on-one, and career fairs are an excellent opportunity to as someone for a follow up one-on-one conversation.
Here are the most commonly asked questions that I receive about career fairs:

What should I do after the career fair to stay in touch?

If you want to stand out from the rest of the crowd at a career fair, you HAVE to send a thank you note!  I spoke to an employer at a career fair and he said that he only receives an email from 5% of the students he talks to. Some employers won’t give out their business card to everyone they talk to.  If someone doesn’t give you a business card, that means they expect you to find them on LinkedIn.
Catch their name and then look them up on LinkedIn and send them a LinkedIn request. Make sure the request details how you met them and something that you remember about your conversation. Most people don’t accept LinkedIn requests from people they don’t know.

What should I say to the employer at the career fair?

Most likely, you will talk first and give a pitch about yourself. Make sure you say what you know about the company in your initial pitch.  Whatever you do, don’t say, “What does your company do?”  That’s a big no-no and will immediately get you removed from the list of potential candidates that they take back to the office. Just think of it as a conversation and try to get the recruiter talking as soon as possible.
 Think of a quick two sentence pitch that you can give of yourself and why you are interested in their company.  Employers want to see if you can succinctly say who you are in that pitch.  Make sure that your answers to the questions are short and sweet because the employer doesn’t have a lot of time and there is probably already a line behind you.

How should I prepare for the career fair?

Since in your pitch you want to tell them how you know about the company, make sure that you research the companies beforehand. You should be able to find a list of the companies that will be there. Go through the list and find 5-10 companies that you are interested in and find out what they do. Go to their website and take a look around at their mission, services, and products.
Then make sure you have your resume updated and ready to hand out. The employers that I talked to said that they keep the hard copy resumes they receive at career fairs and actually make notes about the candidates on them. Unfortunately, they cannot hire at the career fair because everything has to go through their online system. But, once that applicant applies they will look back at their resume to remind themselves what they thought of that person at the career fair. I would recommend having a couple different resumes specialized for each company, especially if the companies and the position you are applying to are different.
Try to be the first person at the career fair because the first hour is always the slowest. Your goal is to get the most time to talk to the recruiters as possible. That means if there are receptions or company information sessions, make sure that you attend them! And then find out a way that you can talk to the recruiter more after the fair.
Also, there is nothing wrong with revisiting those prospects that you really are interested in to make sure that they remember you!  Remember that the employer will be watching you through the entire event no matter where you are. You should watch out for employers in the bathroom and in the dining areas of the career fair. You never know when you might be able to strike up a conversation that could be beneficial for your career!

What are your career fair tips?

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