Think a career fair is a waste of time? Think again. It's a space packed with people searching to fill open roles and make connections for future opportunities—the perfect place for a soon-to-be college grad to score a new job or network with a dream company. But it's not enough to simply show up: To be successful at a career fair, there are several things you should do before you go and while you're there.
Here, we asked career experts to walk you through how to succeed at a career fair.
1. Search for open roles.
Before the fair, get a list of the companies that will be attending—then search their sites (and Glassdoor) to see if they have any open roles for which you might be a fit. "Prioritize which companies you want to visit based on your goals for your target industries, roles, and locations," says Jenny Zenner, career advisor and senior director of technology careers at University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
2. Research your target companies.
Now, take that list of companies whose booths you'd like to stop by and research them. "Go through their website, current news, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn," Zenner says. "See if you have any contacts at those companies—such as fellow alums, friends, and family—and reach out in advance to learn more about what they do." Armed with inside knowledge, you'll be sure to impress company representatives.
3. Plot a path.
Grab a map of the fair (one should be available online) and find the companies you'd like to visit, then create a path that will help you make the most of your time there—one that starts with the most popular brands. "Arrive early so that you can get to the popular companies that likely will have lines," Zenner says. "After you’ve visited all the companies on your priority list, then you can circle back to visit other booths."
4. Dress for success.
Jan Hudson, COO of the recruiting firm Surf Search, recommends that men where a sports jacket while women should don a blazer or other business attire. "You’re looking for a job, not headed to class," she reminds us. Be "neat, tidy, and pressed."
5. Connect the dots for representatives.
When you approach a booth and discuss open roles, don't forget to connect the dots, says career and life coach Kyle Elliott. "Ask questions about open positions, then be ready to discuss how your knowledge, skills, and passion align with the positions your target company is hiring for," he says. "Demonstrate how your experience has prepared you perfectly to join the company," or how you'd fit with company culture.
6. Bring more resumes than you think you'll need.
You'll bring resumes to the fair, for sure, but bring plenty of extras. You never know who you will meet, and you don't want to be caught without one. "Make sure [your resume] is as polished as it can be for a newly graduating candidate entering the workforce," says Hudson. "Get help from career counseling on writing that resume with applicable examples of your successes as a student." The very best resumes will include internships, applicable work experience, and college activities, she says.
7. Practice talking with representatives.
Don't wait for real-time to talk yourself up. "Work on your communications skills ahead of time with a friend," says Hudson. "There is nothing like good-old role playing to help you feel more comfortable." Search online and find top behavioral interview question prompts, she suggests, then run through answering them—several times—with your friend. Practice showing confidence without being overly arrogant, she says, as well as listening to another person and not overtaking them.
8. Follow up.
After you leave the fair, "send a thank you email and a hand-written note to each person you met," says Elliott. Then, you can keep the conversation going by adding the representative with whom you met to your contacts on LinkedIn, as well as "requesting an informational interview to learn more about the company," he says.