Navigating the College Career Fair Resume Tips, Interview Advice & What to Expect

Career fairs are a staple event at most college campuses. They are designed to present students with the opportunity to flex their professional muscles and meet with prospective employers while still in school. For the busy college student, these events also help them cover more ground and meet with numerous organizations in a short timeframe. While every university has their own method for pulling off a successful career fair, data by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that they’re a highly successful and desired part of campus life: There’s been a sustained increase of employer and student attendance in recent years. Students looking to learn more about career fairs and the benefits they offer and how to stand out among the crowd can find all this information and more in the following guide.

Plotting Your College Career Fair Course

Get Prepared

Find a list of companies attending the career fair and get to work researching what they do and the type of people they hire. Create a list of thoughtful, insightful questions, craft an elevator pitch that’s individualized to their needs, and create a few different versions of resumes for different types of positions.

Do Reconnaissance
  • Scope out where different companies are located and what information they have available.

  • Stalk the perimeter of the space and decide the order in which you want to speak to each company before walking nearer each table to learn which positions are available.

Warm Up
  • Career fair attendees likely each have their own method for deciding whom to speak to first, but a general rule is to build up to the companies at the top of your list by speaking to other recruiters first.

  • Allowing yourself to dispel any nerves and settle in to the process will help boost confidence levels when it comes time to speak to the company you’re most interested in.

Strike up a Conversation
  • In addition to meeting with recruiting managers and other employees of the company, it’s worthwhile to talk to other attendees while standing in line to get a sense of who they’ve seen and what their initial impressions are. You may get some candid insight into the participating companies.

  • This step can also help you avoid companies that may not offer what you’re looking for, which could save you some valuable time as you navigate the event.

Be Ready to Talk

Lots of companies use career fairs as an opportunity to conduct short interviews, so be prepared to be asked questions and to ask your own. Hiring managers love starting with the seemingly innocuous “Tell me about yourself” line, which can often trip up students with its vagueness. Be sure to practice this question and others before the day of the event

  • Perfecting a succinct, easily conveyable “elevator pitch” is your first chance to impress recruiters and convince them to extend an interview.

  • Exude confidence when approaching the table by maintaining eye contact, offering a firm handshake, and ensuring body language is open and professional.

Dress for Success

As with other job interviews, recruiters expect students attending college career fairs to dress for the job they hope to have.

  • The most widely accepted style of dress for these occasions is business casual.

  • Students should also ensure they have a pair of professional-looking shoes and a briefcase or satchel.

Bring a Few Key Items

Most hiring managers suggest bringing the following:

  • At least 10 copies of your resume

  • Letters of recommendation and copies

  • A list of references

  • Portfolio, if applicable

  • Other supporting documentation as required for your field (copies of certifications, etc.)

  • Personal business cards are also acceptable, but those from a current employer should not be used.

Know What Not to Bring
  • If you’re coming from class, it’s best to stop by your dormitory or apartment, if possible, and drop off bulky backpacks in favor of a briefcase, purse, or satchel.

  • Refrain from bringing any food or drinks (aside from water) into the career fair.

  • While it’s okay to walk to the fair with friends, it’s best not to bring them with you to individual tables. Recruiters want the opportunity to speak to candidates one-on-one rather than in groups.

Follow Up

Once the fair is over and the recruiters have packed their materials, plan to check in via email or regular mail to thank them for their time and remind them of the interaction and some of your key qualifications. While it’s not required, students who take the extra time to do this step will instantly rise above the competition.

The Five Ws of College Career Fairs

1 Where Are Career Fairs Held?

While location may vary from college to college, most career fairs take place in large student centers where recruiters have space to set up tables and meet with potential candidates. Generic career fairs are typically organized by industries and fields so students can easily find prospective employers. Industry-specific fairs that are smaller in nature may be held in corresponding academic buildings.

2 Why Attend a Career Fair?

College job fairs are beneficial to students for a range of reasons that aren’t limited to getting a job or internship offer. While that may be the end goal, there are plenty of other opportunities to be found at these events.

For students trying to break into an industry, career fairs provide excellent direct networking opportunities and the chance to learn from someone who is in the career a student hopes to one day have. Additionally, students are able to get feedback on their resume and presentation while still in school and make any needed adjustments early on. And while students may feel they’ve narrowed down their future professional options, career fairs provide insight into industries they may not have considered previously.

3 What Can I Expect at a College Career Fair?

Career fairs are typically all-day affairs bustling with hopeful candidates and recruiting managers looking to align their interests. Because students attend these events between classes, they tend to be busiest during the middle part of the day.

Attending earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon may allow for a bit more one-to-one time with company staff. While events vary, most allow students to stand in line and meet the recruiting managers of companies they are interested in working for. Students usually introduce themselves when it is their turn, provide a 60-second elevator pitch, and give the recruiter with a copy of their resume.

Depending on how the event is set up, some companies may conduct short five to 10-minute screening interviews to help determine if a student should be offered a longer, more substantial interview at the company’s office. Depending on the number of recruiters in attendance, students interested in lots of different companies can easily spend a whole day meeting with prospective employers.

4 When Should I Start Attending

Attending a college career fair may seem intimidating as a freshman or sophomore, but the truth is that it’s never to early to start preparing for your career. Aside from offering jobs to soon-to-be graduates, recruitment managers are frequently looking for interns. Many of these are available for sophomores and juniors looking to gain early experience.

Even if a company has no position – paid or otherwise – available, students who are early into their college careers still benefit from opportunities to network, learn about professional paths they may not have considered previously, and develop a professional appearance and communication skills. Students who are more comfortable in a career fair setting from years of attendance rise above the competition by demonstrating their calm and confident demeanor.

5 What Not to Expect from a Career Fair

Even with the most researched planning and best interview, hiring managers most likely aren’t going to extend a job offer on the spot, so don’t be disappointed when they don’t. Students need to remember that all their professional dreams aren’t likely to come true at their first career fair. They should plan to attend as many as possible throughout the course of college, building contacts and polishing their delivery along the way.

Don’t expect that fellow students will be wearing their normal jeans and t-shirts coming straight from class. Recruiters expect to see applicants in business casual attire, so students should either plan to wear an appropriate outfit all day or bring a change of clothes to ensure they look presentable.

Bonus: How to Stand Out

Students attending their first career fair may wonder if they’ll get lost in the crowd when it comes to being memorable to a recruiter.

The most valuable piece of advice for students feeling this way is to be the most researched candidate in the room. Rather than taking a cursory glance at the websites of organizations that will be represented at the event, take time to dig into the companies and learn about their mission, goals, leadership and vision for the future. Think about how a company’s mission statement aligns with your own. This preparation not only allows for thoughtful questions; it also shows the recruiter that you’re already invested in the company.

Following up with any recruiters you spoke to after the event is also beneficial. Be it a thank you card or email, these small acts of kindness remind hiring managers of your discussion and demonstrate your work ethic and responsibility.

Resume Tips for College Students

When hiring managers and recruiters attend college fairs, they often meet dozens – or even hundreds – of bright-eyed students hoping to be employed by them. While a personal, five-minute conversation may make an impression, the best thing that hopefuls can leave these professionals with is a well-crafted resume. Here’s how yours can stand out from the pile.

Stick to the rules

While it may be tempting to go rogue and create a resume that is truly unique and memorable, it’s important to stay within the time-honored guidelines while doing so. Students and new graduates especially need to remember that resumes should be no longer than one page if they want them to have any chance of being read. This doesn’t mean resorting to eight-point font, either. Instead, use this as a challenge to distill and synthesize experience into cogent sections that make the reader want to contact you to learn more about your skills and experience.

Do your research

Depending on the size of the career fair, it could either be industry specific – such as technology, engineering, or marketing – or a roundup of many different career fields. Students should try to find out which companies are going to be present, make a list of those they would be most interested in working for, and then do extensive research about how each company functions and what their expectations are for employees. These elements should be accounted for in your resume. By going in as a knowledgeable potential candidate who can speak about the needs of the company, hiring managers are much more likely to take note and want to know more.

Create multiple versions of your resume

After researching companies that will be in attendance, the most organized and focused students create individualized resumes highlighting the skills and experiences most desired by hiring managers. For instance, if a company is focused on marketing, creating a resume that expounds on your previous work with social media, advertising, writing, or website management helps bring you to the forefront. In the same way, if a company was hiring a human resource position, these skills probably don’t need to be at the top of your resume.

Direct resume readers to your personal website

Because resumes should only be a single page in length, using that space to reel them in is crucial. After crafting a resume that leaves them wanting more, make sure you’re able to provide it. Consider creating a personal website providing more in-depth information, such as writing samples, recommendations, accolades or examples of volunteerism. If you don’t have time to create a website before the career fair, spruce up your LinkedIn page and include a web address to your profile.

Provide resume backup

Just because your resume needs to be brief doesn’t mean you can’t bring supporting documents. If you find yourself in a conversation with a recruiting manager who wants to know more about you, your work ethic, or your experience, it’s important to have a few documents on hand to back up your claims. Consider printing out a list of references, letters of recommendation, your most recent transcript, and even a project portfolio so hiring managers get instant access to who you are and what you’ve already accomplished.

Interview Tips

Even seasoned professionals agree that the interview phase of any recruitment opportunity can be nerve-wracking, but it’s especially true for new grads. Rather than letting worries get the best of them, students can do themselves many favors simply by being prepared when they reach the career fair.

General Interview Advice
Areas of Focus

The Inside Scoop on Getting Hired

One of the most common questions students have about career fairs pertains to the type of employers who participate. Campus-sponsored job fairs typically run the gamut in terms of industry and organizational type – including for profits, nonprofits, and government agencies. With both local and national organizations typically in attendance, students have the opportunity to learn about options in their backyard and those across the country – or in some cases, the world.

The majority of roles are entry-level in nature, although those on offer at a graduate-level career fair may be more advanced. Recruiters are typically looking for bright eyed students who are knowledgeable, hard-working, and demonstrate an interest in staying with the company at least a couple years.

Internships and fellowships are also frequently found on offer at college career fairs and provide students a chance to get their foot in the door while still in school. Many of these opportunities – especially ones providing compensation – are highly competitive at top companies.

Avoid errors

One of the first ways a hiring manager gets to know candidates is through their resumes, especially if they apply online. One way to immediately make them lose interest is to provide a document that has grammatical errors. If you can’t manage to provide an errorless resume, why should companies have faith that you can do the job at hand? Read over it multiple times and also have a friend or colleague review it.

Be flexible

Especially for students or recent graduates, being willing to relocate, take on extra responsibility, travel, or work untraditional hours lets hiring managers know that students are passionate about the role they are applying for and willing to go the extra mile to be a good employee.

Be informed

This point really can’t be stressed enough, but it’s vitally important to hiring managers to see that candidates took initiative to learn about the company before interviewing with them. While knowing basic facts about the organization is a good place to start, candidates who use their research to drop knowledgeable ideas into conversation or discuss how they would be a great employee based on their skills and the company’s needs will be true standouts in the hiring process.

Be realistic

While a lot of students may already have the next few steps of their career planned out, it’s important to be realistic about where they are in life and what they bring to the table. Although it may feel like an entry-level role isn’t utilizing talents as well as it could, everyone has to start from somewhere. Being realistic about jobs fit to the experience level of a recent graduate will likely help land a job sooner in the long run as students aren’t wasting their time applying for roles for which they aren’t suited.

Virtual Career & Job Fairs

With ever increasing use of technology and digital devices, it’s no wonder that virtual career fairs are becoming increasingly popular. While the same premise applies – candidates learn about different companies, meet recruiters, shares resumes and complete an interview – all of it takes place from the comfort of the applicant’s home.

Virtual job fairs are popular with tech-savvy Millennials seeking an employer that’s future-focused, but also with military veterans seeking a career change. In fact, more than 100,000 veterans have been hired via virtual career fairs since 2011, and close to one million have attended an online job fair. This hiring platform appeals to both recruiters and veteran applicants by not only opening the doors to far greater options, but also tapping into the specialized skills developed during military training and applying them to the workforce.

Virtual Career Fair Resources

Ability Links

Ability Links focuses on providing national-level virtual careers fairs that connect individuals with disabilities to inclusive employers in a range of industries. Example of hiring organizations using Ability Links include:

Martin Brower

Focused on supply chain provision for quick serve restaurants across the world, Martin Brower has been in operation for more than 60 years and employs individuals from all levels of education and experience levels through an inclusive hiring process.

Presence Health

Operating primarily in the Midwest, this Catholic hospital network regularly uses virtual career fairs to find the best talent for roles in hospitals, family care facilities, retirement programs, behavioral health services, and post-surgery care.

Career Eco

With a focus on creating a new career ecosystem, this organization harnesses the power of the internet to bring together qualified job seekers and hundreds of recruiting organizations in a spectrum of professional fields. Examples of hiring organizations using Career Eco include:

Office Depot

Operating in more than 60 countries worldwide, a recent virtual fair saw the company seeking students with bachelor’s, master’s, or MBA degrees in areas of business, engineering, liberal arts, computer science, or commerce for both full and part-time roles.

National Institutes of Health

Operating as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, NIH is a preeminent agency working toward disease prevention, treatment, and research. According to its profile, the agency is seeking students of all postsecondary levels in all majors for internships, fellowships, and full-time roles.

Veteran Recruiting Services

The preeminent virtual career fair provider for former members of our nation’s military, Veteran Recruiting has partnerships with hundreds of national and international companies and agencies, ranging from the Transportation Security Agency and Pfizer to Apple and Verizon. Other hiring organizations using VRS include:

Aetna

A pro-military hiring company, Aetna has a specialized department for hiring veterans and military spouses for a range of healthcare-related roles throughout America.

Penske

Recognizing the value of tapping into veterans’ extensive knowledge of transportation and logistics, Penske is also a featured hiring organization at VRS. Positions available range from those based on the road to those in offices.

University Virtual Job Fairs

In addition to hosting companies and recruiters on campus, lots of universities are also starting to expand their virtual career options, and that includes online fairs. Whether organized specifically by degree programs or across all majors, students should check with their career services department to find out what is available. Examples include:

American Military University

AMU regularly hosts virtual career fairs in a range of different professional fields. Rather than bringing companies from many different industries together, the school tries to provide targeted, all-day virtual fairs for students with specific interests. AMU also offers prep clinics before each online fair to help students put their best foot forward.

Wright State University

WSU’s program is a bit different as it connects students seeking campus-based employment with supervisors and department heads looking for part-time assistance. By allowing students to learn how a virtual career fair operates at their school, they’ll be better prepared when it comes time to land their first job out of college.

State-specific Virtual Job Fairs

Lots of states now have their own virtual career fairs, with Pennsylvania serving as a great example. Local virtual career fairs are excellent options for learning about regional small businesses as well as multi-national corporations that may have operations within your state.

Expert Advice on College Career Fairs

Kevin N Ladd

Kevin N Ladd, chief operating officer and vice president of Scholarships.com, offers expert advice on navigating college career fairs.

Interviewwith KEVIN N LADD

Why should a student attend a career fair?  

College career fairs are a great opportunity for students to inquire and learn about a number of careers efficiently. With lots of organizations in one venue, a student can gather a lot of information, gauge interest in both directions (between themselves and a handful of organizations), and meet face-to-face with a hiring manager. This exercise is particularly valuable to a personable student whose conversational skills would be lost in a simple email or perhaps not fully realized during a phone conversation.

How can they best prepare for this type of event?

It never hurts to be prepared for a career fair and it is easy enough to do simply by visiting the website of organizations and companies in which the student is interested and gaining a bit of basic knowledge about their size, areas of work, and expectations for employees.

What are things that students should and should not expect when attending a career fair?

Don’t expect organizations to know who you are and what interests you. They may try to draw it out of you if there is a spark of interest, but don’t be shy. Tell them a bit about yourself, your experiences, and what you can bring to a position. y. Ask lots of questions, but not just the kind you can easily find on a website. Try to make the most of the opportunity.

College Career Fair Resources

  • Prepare for the Fair

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers provides an insider’s look at how organizations prepare for career fairs and what they will be looking for during the event.

  • Questions to Ask Recruiters

    Rather than asking basic questions whose answers could be found on the company’s website, Portland Community College provides a list of more thoughtful topics to discuss.

  • What Recruiters Wish You Knew About Career Fairs

    After attending dozens or even hundreds of career fairs, hiring managers have a finely attuned sense of what they’re looking for in a candidate and a list of turnoffs. Learn what they have to say in this piece by Vocation Village.