How to Prep for a College Job Fair

By Lorena Roberts on September 14, 2018

Student loans are real, and as you get closer and closer to graduating, the more real they seem to get. The thought of having to make payments (that very well could be similar to a brand new car payment) is horrifying, and most graduates start feeling nervous about getting a job as their senior year begins.

Lucky for you, you have a better chance of getting a job once you’ve earned your Bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education’s Statistics (NCES). Only 57% of individuals between the ages of 20 and 24 with only a high school diploma were employed in 2016, while individuals with at least a Bachelor’s degree were 86% employed. Those stats look pretty good for you, don’t they?

But what those statistics don’t show us is how happy those 20-24-year-olds are in their careers — especially the ones who have invested thousands of dollars into their education. Are these twenty-something-year-olds happy to be working and paying hundreds of dollars per month in student loan payments? Are these twenty-something-year-olds working the first job that was offered to them because they were afraid it would be the only job offer they’d get? There might even be a decent chunk of these “young professionals” working way below their pay grade or working jobs they aren’t even interested simply to have a job. 

Universities across the country know how tough it can be for college graduates to find a job after graduation. If you graduated in 2008, when the economy tanked, you’ll know how tough it is to find employment — much less to find employment that you actually enjoy. So in order to help college students prepare for finding a job after graduation, universities will host job fairs to try to connect students with employers who are looking to hire.

Though trying to find a job after graduation is simply nerve-wracking, many students will try to avoid the post-graduation hustle to get a job by preparing ahead of time. One of the best ways to prepare to get a job following graduation is to attend the career fairs your university will host over the course of your collegiate career. Sometimes universities will host career fairs every semester. Be sure to check in with the department of career services to find out whether career fairs at your school are organized by college, major, or it’s all thrown in together.

College job fairs are one of the most common ways students can make connections with companies who are hiring. Oftentimes, colleges will host job fairs at some point during the semester, encouraging students to meet employers and network with professionals in their field.

But attending a college job fair can be pretty intimidating — especially if it’s your first time. You may feel like you aren’t prepared to meet professionals in your field. However, there are some key ways you can ensure when you show up at your school’s career fair, you’re more than prepared to meet potential future employers. If you’re nervous about networking at the next career fair, here are seven ways you can make sure you show up perfectly prepared:

via pixabay.com

1. Bring several copies of your resume.

One of the most important things you can bring with you to a job fair is your resume. This piece of paper is something you can put in the hands of those who are hiring so they can remember you later on. Make sure you’ve edited your resume multiple times and gotten several opinions on formatting, use of verbs, and organization. Your school’s career center will likely have professionals who dedicate their daily lives to reading college student resumes and aiding in the job search. Before you attend your college job fair, make sure your resume is as close to perfect as possible.

Writing a resume can be challenging and intimidating. It’s tough to know what your industry expects, and there are way too many online templates to choose from. Research tips on making your resume stand out to human resources managers prior to completing and printing out several copies of your resume.

2. Dress appropriately.

When you attend a job fair, you’re making a first impression on the company. If you show up in your sweaty gym clothes, potential employers will be anything but impressed. Remember that first impressions cannot be redone. If you’re serious about getting a job after college, ensure that when you attend a job fair and meet professionals in the field, you’re dressed as if you’re interviewing for the job on the spot — because oftentimes, that’s exactly what a job fair is.

Outfits that are acceptable for job interviews are also acceptable for job fairs. Though I would say you’re safe if you’re slightly more casual than formal “interview” wear. Employers understand that you might be coming from class, so there’s a chance you’re going to be in shoes that are a bit more comfortable to walk in than your dressy ones. However, there’s no excuse for showing up to a career fair in shorts and a t-shirt. I would not recommend throwing away your chance at a job because of a wardrobe faux-pas.

via Pixabay.com

3. Do your research.

Showing up to a career fair without any information about employers who will be in attendance is one of the worst ways to prepare for a job fair. Colleges will most likely publish a list of employers who will be in attendance — often organized by industry. Spend some time looking over this list and prioritizing the employers that you’re most interested in (more on this in the next point). Otherwise, you could waste your time talking to employers that don’t offer what you’re looking for.

One of the best ways to research companies is to talk with a current employee. It’s pretty unlikely that you’re going to personally know someone who works for the company you’re most interested in, but this is where upperclassmen can come in handy. Reach out to classmates you’ve had that have graduated and gotten jobs. They could be some of your best resources when it comes to finding a job for yourself!

The one thing you absolutely do not want to do is show up to a career fair with absolutely no knowledge about any of the employers in attendance. It’ll make you look completely unprepared and irresponsible. This isn’t to say that you can’t visit tables of employers you’re not as familiar with — it’s just to point out how ill-prepared you look if you walk up to an employer and expect them to sell you on what they have to offer.

Sure, employers know they’re competing with everyone else in attendance. But it looks pretty bad when your introduction to an employer begins with “so tell me about you guys.” Employers will be much more impressed if you know your stuff upon opening a conversation with whoever is there to represent them.

created by Lorena Roberts via Piktochart.com

4. Prioritize your interests.

There are going to be hundreds of employers at this job fair — trust me. If your university has gone through the trouble of scheduling a job fair, they’re going to make sure it’s loaded with potential employers. Because it can be overwhelming to walk into a job fair and approach employers, prioritize those you are most interested in speaking with. I wouldn’t suggest showing up and lolly-gagging from table to table, hoping you come across your dream job. Preparing for a career fair requires you take time beforehand to really do your research. Plus, companies are highly impressed when students can show they’ve dedicated time to researching a company and their goals.

Consider reaching out to HR before the career fair — expressing your excitement for meeting one of their representatives on campus. That way, when you show up to the fair, someone is already expecting you and you’ll have a starting point for conversation.

This is probably better advice for upperclassmen who are on the verge of graduating. As a freshman, it’s not as important that you’re on a first name basis with the HR supervisor. But as you move through your college career, consider ways you can network with companies you’re most interested in working for.

5. Be prepared to give a “pitch.”

Career fairs are about “selling yourself” and your abilities. When you travel from table to table, representatives from companies will ask you about yourself, your interests, and your career goals. Be prepared to strike up a conversation with a professional regarding the things you’re interested in, some of your favorite classes, and any experiences you’ve had that would make you valuable to their company.

If you need help writing or rehearsing your “elevator pitch,” reach out to your school’s career services center. They specialize in making sure you’re prepared to land a job after college. It can be intimidating to try and write an elevator pitch on your own — and it’s hard to know what you’re up against as far as competition with your fellow classmates. Universities have career service departments to help students with things like this! You’ll be able to meet with someone whose sole purpose is to help you land your dream job. Most likely, they’ll be with you every step of the way — from writing your pitch to practicing and perfecting it for the employers you’re most interested in.

6. Know what not to bring.

Employers know that you’re visiting the fair in between classes, but, if at all possible, stop back by your apartment or vehicle to drop off your bulky belongings.

While it’s generally acceptable to show up to a career fair with friends, I wouldn’t suggest traveling from table to table together. Be confident enough to branch out on our own and talk to potential employers without your BFF by your side.

Food and drink is a total no-no, unless it’s your refillable water bottle. Showing up to a table holding your Subway sandwich is going to make you look like nothing more than a total goon. 

My advice? Eat a snack beforehand and only show up to a career fair with a bottled water — if you need it. Carrying around a soda, a snack, or other eateries just makes you look like you weren’t prepared for a college job fair. Employers remember things like this — though you may think they don’t. You probably don’t want to be the one they remember as “the girl with the sauce on her face.”

Potential employers have taken time out of their busy schedules to meet with college students who could potentially become employees. Walking up to a table with a greasy sandwich in your hands is a total turn-off.

via Pixabay.com

7. Have a plan for following up with some of your top choices.

Collect business cards, email addresses, and names of the companies you’re interested in pursuing. Come up with a game plan for following up with them! Whether you send an email thanking them for their time or getting more information, employers like to hear from you after they’ve met with you. You can truly “seal the deal” by making sure you have a plan for how you’ll follow up with the employers you favored most.

College job fairs can be intimidating — especially if it’s your first go-round. But after you get the hang of things, you’ll realize that these career fairs are gold mines for ensuring you have a shot at a job after graduation. It’s the perfect place to network and make connections with professionals in your field and “get your name out there.”

Students will often attend more than one career fair. The more opportunities you can take advantage of, the better! So as soon as you feel prepared to start showing up to these events — do it! The more practice you get meeting employers, the better. You’ll be glad you did it when it comes to making those student loan payments after graduation.

Attending your university’s career fair might be intimidating at first, but there are ways you can ensure you’re completely prepared to hit a home run with every employer you talk to. Make sure you show up with plenty of copies of your resume, dressed for the job, with the background knowledge you need to make conversation with the employers in attendance. The earlier you get experience with attending career fairs, the more practice you’ll have, and the more likely it’ll be that you’ll land your dream job after graduation.

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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