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Job & Career Fairs – Everything You Need To Know (and then some) to Make It a Great Experience

By Sue Campbell,

As you read this article on career and job fairs, take note of one important word repeated throughout: “Opportunity.” No single word can better sum up what participating in a job or career fair can mean to the smart job hunter… particularly when that job hunter is well prepared.

What’s In It For The Job Hunter?

After pursuing job ads, talking to recruiters, searching the Internet for job postings, researching companies, networking with everyone you know, and mailing out resume submissions... imagine being able to go to one place where a large number of companies are represented, companies who are actively seeking job candidates with your skills, your areas of expertise, your industry, and/or your geographical location in mind – all in a single, convenient location. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of attending a job or a career fair is that it can eventually produce a job offer.

But there’s more…

Job fairs offer participating candidates an opportunity to learn more about the companies within their community or industry; a unique occasion to ask revealing questions, gather materials, and compare options. Job candidates can investigate how individual companies manage their working environments, salary ranges, benefits packages - how they view a specific job’s responsibilities and expectations, and how these offerings and expectations differ from one company to the next.

Job candidates can gain information from those who are actually working within a company, asking representatives their views of the companies with whom they work and their experience as an employee. For a list of great questions to ask company representatives, see Interview Prep and then take the Tough Interview Questions Quiz.

But there’s even more…

In addition to evaluating companies, job fair participants gain an opportunity to evaluate their own competition; other candidates competing for similar positions. The idea is to learn from your competition, to analyze what they’re doing, right and wrong, and come away with new and useful tools and strategies for use in your own job search campaign.

Career fairs offer job candidates an avenue for networking with other professionals, both at the actual event and as a catalyst for the development of future networking opportunities. Candidates can learn where likeminded professionals congregate; in which professional associations they hold membership, and within what community programs or services they remain actively involved.

And finally, job fairs can provide candidates with valuable insights into what employers are hoping to secure in the candidates they hire, and how the candidate measures to these standards. Career fairs allow job candidates to assess their personal and professional strengths and weakness and make improvements to increase their competitive advantage.

Where Can I find Out About Upcoming Career and Job Fair Events?

You can learn about upcoming job and career fairs from your local newspaper, professional association, business or industry publications, employment agencies, community employment centers, and various Web sites on the Net.

(About third-party Websites)
Area Career Events from the BostonWorks, a division of the Boston Globe
Career Fairs Global
Career Concepts, USA
Diversity Career Group - Sales, Retail & Management
Nursing Career Fairs
Equal Opportunity Publications, Inc. Job Fair Listings
Non-profit Career Fairs and Events
Job Expo Event Calendar
Diversity Job Fairs
SalesTrax Career Fairs
Women for Hire - Expos & Seminars, Calendar

Want to include your career fair link here? Please e-mail Sue Campbell.

How To Prepare for a Job or Career Fair

Preparation is key.

n     Take the event seriously:

View the experience as you would a job interview, and come prepared. Although job and career fairs can be a lot of fun and are a great opportunity to learn more about the companies and industries represented, this is a business event and should be treated as such.

n     Pre-register:

When possible, always pre-register. Some registries will have you submit a resume, which allows participating companies an opportunity to screen prospective candidates and identify potential talent in advance of the event. While this may not guarantee interest or an invitation to interview, it’s an opportunity to make potential companies aware of your interest and capabilities early in the process.

Pre-registration also removes one step from the day of the event, allowing candidates to move more quickly into the screening and networking portion of the event.

n     Research participating companies (in detail), select your top choices, and prepare notes:

The vast majority of job and career fairs will post the names of participating companies well in advance of the actual event. This gives job candidates the opportunity to research companies and determine their top choices. This research also allows participants to be informed, with a good understanding of the companies represented.

Sometimes in researching a company a job candidate will locate a job posting (often on the company Web site) that is a good fit for their qualifications and experience. The job candidate may wonder, “Should I apply for this position, or should I wait for the Career Fair event?” – Always apply. This places you one step ahead of other job fair participants vying for the same position.

n     Plan your day-of-the-event strategies carefully:

Once you’ve researched participating companies and chosen your top choices, you’ll want to plan your strategy so that you can meet with these top choices early in the event (morning), preferably in the order of your interest, with plans to return again later in the day to thank them for their time. Meet with your secondary choices mid-event or mid-day.

While it’s a good idea to broaden your focus to include a wide variety of companies, opportunities or even industries, even some you may not have previously considered, don’t waste your time interviewing with companies for whom you have no interest in securing employment. Use your time wisely and have your day’s strategies prepared and ready well in advance.

n     Create a checklist that you can take to the event, so that you can check off items provided to companies of interest.


Company Name: ________________________
Contact’s Name: ________________________ / Representative Business Card 

ţ     My Resume ţ  My Business Card ţ  My Reference List

n     Have your documents (resume, business cards, reference lists) prepared well in advance and printed in volume:

You’ll want to have a greater number of resumes, business cards and reference sheets available than the number of companies represented at the event. For example, at one event a candidate was interviewed by a pair of representatives from one company, and because this candidate was well prepared she was able to offer each representative a clean copy of her resume.

Don’t wait to have your documents updated, prepared or printed. Do this well in advance of the event.

n     Have an introduction dialogue prepared and practiced:

At a “meet and greet” you need to be prepared to introduce yourself.

If you can only introduce yourself with your name, “Hi, I’m Sue Campbell,” then your introduction is incomplete.

You need to be prepared to identify the types of skills you possess and the types of positions you’re targeting, “Hi, I’m Sue Campbell. I’m a professional ___________. I’m seeking a position in _____________.” You also need to be prepared to answer the types of questions typically asked during a routine interview situation.

n     Be ready to interview and answer questions:

The time available for interviewing at a job or career fair is substantially shorter than a typical interview situation, however the types of questions asked may be very similar, and the job candidate needs to be prepared to be interviewed on-the-spot.

n     Be ready to ask questions:

This is your opportunity to learn as much as possible about a company, its offerings and its expectations of potential employees. Knowing the right types of questions to ask can be extremely helpful. See Interview Prep for a good list of questions to ask prospective employers.

n     Have interview attire, including second interview attire, prepared and ready in advance:

It’s important to dress the part, and when considering attire for a job or career fair event you want to select the same type of clothing you would normally wear to a formal interview situation.

Check out the article "Dress to Impress: A Guide." It includes photo examples and comparisons, outlines for appropriate dress for men and women, and feedback from potential employers. Very well done.

In addition, you want to have secondary interview attire ready for invitations to interview at the company location.

n     Purchase folders, pens, pad of paper, and “Thank you” cards:

You’re going to need something to hold and organize your various job search documents that you bring to the event (resume, business cards, reference sheets, etc.), as well as something that can hold the various items you’ll be collecting (marketing materials, brochures, business cards, etc.).

You’ll also want a pad of paper to jot down notes. It’s always wise to take notes immediately following any interview situation, while the exchange is still fresh in your mind.
And you’re going to want to have “Thank you” cards ready, including postage, for mailing to those individuals with whom you want to follow-up and show appreciation.

n     Create a checklist for the morning of the event – so that nothing’s left behind. Stay organized:

A checklist of all the items you need to bring.

What To Bring On The Day of the Event

Job Hunting Business Cards (in volume).

 Resumes (in volume).

Participating company list, in order of interest (be discreet, only you should be able to recognize this list for what it is). Notes on participating companies (information you've gained from your research).

 Reference Lists.

Briefcase and/or folders to organized your materials and for collection of marketing materials and business cards you will take away from the event.

Items you might normally have on hand for an interview situation. These can include:

  • Directions and phone number for the company, in case something deters your arrival.

  • A comb or hairbrush and a pocket mirror.

  • Tissues, wet naps, or a small washcloth (trust me, these can be a lifesaver).

  • Toothbrush and toothpaste or breath spray. Chewing gum and mints can relieve dry mouth and halitosis (taken before the event or during rest breaks, but don’t chew gum or mints within the actual event area).

  • Travel-size antiperspirant (Did I or didn't I? You can never be too sure).

  • Umbrella (if there is any chance for rain).

  • Women: an extra pair of pantyhose or clear nail polish for quick repair (okay, so almost no one wears pantyhose anymore). Men: an extra tie.

  • Correct change for parking, if necessary.

What You Can Do To Make The Most of the Job / Career Fair Experience – On the Day of the Event

Know the companies who will be participating and locate your top choices as soon within the event as possible. Meet with these companies and their representatives early, with plans to return later in the day to thank them for their time.

Be direct. Introduce yourself. Don’t stand back and wait for someone to take interest. Have your introduction prepared.

Gather as many materials from companies of interest as possible, including representative business cards.

Be generous with your job hunting business cards and hand them out freely.

Be generous with your resume, but only provide it to those companies with whom you have sincere interest. Of course, if a representative asks for your resume, you should be willing to provide it.

Be less generous with your reference lists. You don’t want your references contacted needlessly.

Be aware of the demands placed on company representatives and don’t monopolize their time. Instead, introduce yourself, ask specific questions, answer questions, gather materials, and offer to follow-up after the event when appropriate.

Network with other candidates at the event. Visit any professional association booths that may be participating and learn more about the organizations within your industry or community.

It’s not a race. Take your time and enjoy the event. Smile. Be affable. Be generous. Be helpful. Listen at least as much as you speak. Have goals for the event and try your best to achieve them.

What You Should Take Away From The Experience (literally)

Business cards. Not only do business cards remind you who is who and provide valuable contact information for later, but they give you the correct spelling of your contacts’ names, too.

Marketing materials of your choice and secondary companies. Marketing tells you a lot about how a company views itself, what it’s proud of, what it wants to be known for, who its target market is and where it’s headed, and, subsequently, insight into on how you may fit into their model.

The names of professional association and community organizations worth investigating and potentially joining.

Other leads, including companies not represented at the event.

New network contacts.

How You Should Follow-up The Experience In A Valuable and Meaningful Way

Before you write the first “Thank you” note, take time to assess the experience. What worked, what didn’t, what will you do exactly the same at the next event or interview (because it worked so beautifully), what will you change or improve…

Next, gather the collected materials you collected at the event and send “Thank you” cards to those company representatives with whom you spoke, thanking for their participation and reiterating your interest in the company. Include a job business card inside each “Thank you” that you send.

Follow-up with network contacts and arrange meetings.

Contact professional associations and community organizations of interest to find out when the next meeting is and how you may participate.

For all companies of interest, including those who may not have been in the original line-up (perhaps they joined late), research company Web sites for any job postings available, and reference your attendance at the job or career fair in your resume submission.

Why Do Companies Participate in Job/Career Fairs?

You may wonder why a company would choose to participate in a job or career fair, particularly when the current economic environment feels like an “employers’ market.”

By participating in career fairs, companies are able to screen and identify potential talent, creating a more complete picture than the solicitation and reading of resumes alone can achieve.

Company representatives can conduct multiple, mini-interviews that demand much less time and expense than the scheduling of consecutive one-hour, in-office interviews would require.

And there are additional benefits for companies who participate, including the opportunity to network with other companies, to see what the competition is doing, to be or become actively involved within their communities and industries, and to test their marketing chops and materials for efficacy and value. It also provides a break from routine that empowers company representatives and recharges their batteries.

It’s a win-win situation all around.

Worth your review: Equal Employment Opportunity Laws - U.S.

Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  / Services

See more articles on job hunting

Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell, - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help! P.O. Box 1128, Keystone Heights, FL 32656-1128 (904) 248-2493   E-mail Sue Campbell

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This page last updated: 04/23/2012