Preparing for a Career Fair

What to know and what to do before you walk the floor


If you don’t have business cards, it’s a good idea to create some for yourself. Make sure that everything about them is professional — if the only email address you have is beerdude19@loser.net, sign up for a new one that won’t put off prospective employers. Use the more appropriate email address in your contact information on your resume as well.

Practice, practice, practice
Before entering a career fair, you should have a few sentences memorized to use when introducing yourself to prospective employers. Your “spiel” should include your name, a brief description of training, and what you’re looking for in a job or employer. This short speech should focus on you, not on the company to whose representative you’re talking. Know why you want to work for them and what you can bring to their organization.

By no means should you only stick to a script. Think about the questions that prospective employers will likely ask and try to develop short answers. Make sure to actually say your spiel and short answers aloud many times at home — you may feel silly talking to yourself, but it will help you feel more practiced and confident when saying those same words out loud to a recruiter.

You can even practice with a family member, spouse, or friend. Have them play the part of the recruiter while you recite your pieces and react accordingly. This will help you appear more relaxed (and therefore confident) when you experience the real thing at a career fair. The person you role play with will also be able to tell you if you come off as confident or if you come off as arrogant. Employers are looking for smart people who can keep learning, not for someone who acts as if they already know it all.

Look the part
Kollhoff says that jobseekers should always “dress a step above.” Even if you would never wear a suit on the job after you get hired, you still need to dress to impress during a job fair or interview. Make sure to appear clean and neat in all aspects — some things go without saying: bathe, comb your hair, brush your teeth, shave your face or make sure facial hair is groomed, clean and trim your fingernails, and put on a suit.

If you don’t own a suit, make sure you still step up your appearance. Kollhoff says that even “business casual” means a blazer, nice shirt, and pants or skirt. Men should wear a tie and women can wear a subtle scarf if they wish. All clothes should be clean and pressed. Dress shoes should be scuff free; women should wear a low or moderate heel if they choose not to wear flats.

Tennis shoes are never appropriate at a job fair, nor are backpacks. Granted, some students will find out about a job fair the day that it occurs and will roll in straight from class.

However, these people project the image of a student rather than that of a prospective professional.

Most employers are looking for applicants who dress conservatively. Your flaming skull of death t-shirt might get lots of looks at the bar, but it will only get you looked over at a career fair. Cover tattoos and wear minimal or no jewelry.

The idea is not to distract from your message: that you are the best candidate for the job. Flashy prints or bold accessories will detract attention from your words. If a recruiter is too busy watching you fidget with your watch or push your hair back every two seconds, they won’t pay attention to the speech you worked diligently to prepare. If your watch makes you uncomfortable, don’t wear it. If your hair falls in your face, pin or tie it back. Do whatever you need to do to make yourself comfortable so that you can appear poised and focused when speaking with people you aim to impress. As Kollhoff says, if an accessory is going to make you uncomfortable, do without.

Attack the floor with pride
By this point, you have researched the companies you want to work for, prepared a resume that reflects all that you have to offer an employer, you look sharp, and you have rehearsed what you will say. All that’s left is to do it.

Gather copies of your resume and business cards and put them into a portfolio or a professional-looking briefcase or bag for easy access. Silence your phone or put it on vibrate so that AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” doesn’t start blaring when a prospective employer asks you where you see yourself in five years.

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