Career fairs bring employers, recruiters or schools together to provide information to potential candidates at a single event. They are opportunities for students and job seekers to have conversations and make connections with multiple employers within a short time frame.
It is important to note that candidates do not “land jobs or internships” at a career fair, rather they “make connections.” Those connections lead to expressed interest, follow-up, and interviews. That is where the employment opportunities come from.
For many, this distinction relieves some pressure. You can simply go to a career fair to talk with some representatives, learn more about some companies, and expand your sense of what’s available to you. Career fairs also provide a low-stakes opportunity to practice having professional career-related conversations, which will help you make connections in other contexts.
Here are some tips for making the most of your career fair experiences.
Information on available career fairs can be found on Handshake.
Once logged in to your account, click on “Events” and use the “Category” filter to select “Career Fair.”
Note that ALL career fairs facilitated by career services offices at Illinois are open to ALL Illinois students. That includes the Fall and Spring career fairs hosted by Gies, Grainger, and the I-School, as well as the ACES & LAS Career Fair in fall and the Illini Career Fair in Spring.
There are also more specialized fairs hosted by individual departments or programs, as well as larger fairs (generally virtual) hosted by organizations outside the University of Illinois. Consider attending any fairs that are a strong match for your interests, skills, and experience. Review the organizations that are recruiting at a fair using Handshake to see if their openings are a good match for your skills.
Not sure if a career fair is a good fit for you? Come visit the LAS Career Services team. We’re happy to help.
Prepare for a career fair by identifying 3-7 employers you want to talk to and researching them. You can find the list of participating employers on the fair’s event page on Handshake.
You can of course attend the career fair without any preparation, but you are more likely to make connections if you go in with a plan. Even if you are not actively seeking a job or internship yet, focusing on a few specific employers will help you have more productive conversations.
Handshake allows you to narrow down the list of employers by filtering for companies that name your major or that specify “all majors,” but that strategy may eliminate relevant organizations. If a company that sounds interesting has a long list of majors, look to see if any of the named majors involve skills related to your major, and drill down into the position descriptions to see what the specific requirements for the role are. You may very well be in a “related major” if you meet most of the requirements.
For each employer, take note of the following:
- What does the company/organization do?
- What positions (if any) are they hiring for?
- Is this organization holding any talks or events on campus before or after the fair? These information sessions can be great opportunities to learn and make connections.
- Prepare some questions to ask the representatives. What do you want to know about them that you can’t find on their website or Handshake page?
For example: What kinds of leadership experience do successful applicants usually have?
How do you retain valued members of your sales team?
What do YOU like about working here?
Is this internship available at your new location in XX?
- If the company has a button to apply online and the internship or job is of interest, go ahead and apply. Then, mention that you’ve applied when you talk to the recruiter at the fair!
Here are a few preparation steps you can take for all kinds of career fairs.
- Update your resume and have it reviewed.
- Reflect on the key interests, skills and values you bring to the workplace, and how they connect to organizations you are interested in.
- Use your reflections to identify at least three talking points -- things that you think representatives should know about you that are not your major. Practice saying these out loud. For example:
- “I have customer service experience in a wide range of organizations.”
- “I’ve been working since I was fourteen.”
- “I write at least 75 pages of polished prose every semester for my major.”
- “Between my job, my RSO, and my classes, I’m good at juggling multiple deadlines.”
- “I organized three events for my sorority to raise over $1000 for cancer research.”
Some preparation steps differ between in-person and virtual career fairs.
In-person career fairs
- Print out copies of your one-page resume.
How many? Count the number of organizations you want to talk to, and then double it and add 10. If you are looking at more than one broad category of job, it is okay to have more than one version of your resume.
- Gather your materials to take to the career fair.
Useful resources include a folder or portfolio to carry your resumes, a notepad, and a pen/pencil. Bring your research notes on organizations you want to connect with. Having a pocket to gather organization information and business cards is helpful too.
- Have a career fair outfit ready to go.
Aim for an office-ready look: Avoid athletic wear, t-shirts/hoodies, logos, jeans, shorts, flip-flops, athletic shoes, or excessive displays of flesh. A suit is great, but slacks/skirt and a blouse/collared shirt or office-appropriate top/sweater also work very well.
Virtual career fairs
- Register for the fair and sign up for sessions
For virtual fairs, you need to register for the event and sign up for individual and group sessions IN ADVANCE. The earlier you sign up, the more choice you have in session timeslots. Remember, when you sign up for a session, the representatives can see your name. So, if you sign up – show up!
- Upload your resume to Handshake (or other platform).
This allows employers to easily access your resume during and after the fair.
- Gather your materials.
Have easy access to a copy of your resume (for reference), your research notes on organizations you want to connect with, and a place to take notes from your interactions during the fair.
- Prepare your career fair outfit.
Most virtual career fairs are “cameras on” virtual events, so plan to wear an office-appropriate shirt/sweater/blouse. Use Zoom, not your mirror, to make sure that your camera is showing a professional image.
- Plan a quiet space where you can focus on the career fair.
Provide yourself with the best possible environment to focus on your career fair experience by locating a quiet space where you will not be interrupted. Make sure your face is illuminated and your background is uncluttered. Virtual backgrounds can be helpful, but be aware that they can pixelate on slow connections.
- Check your internet connection and video applications before the career fair.
Give the internet connection, as well as your computer video and audio, a test run before the career fair.
Here are some tips for both in-person and virtual fairs.
In-person career fairs
- Get a map of the event and plan your route.
There should be maps of the venues available – sometimes there are printed copies, or posters, or even in an app. The rooms can be crowded and noisy. Take time to adjust and become familiar with the layout.
- Start with a recruiter for an organization you are less interested in – or one that was not on your list.
Work out your initial nerves in a lower-pressure interaction. If you see a recruiter with no one waiting to talk with them, that may be a good one to practice on – they will be glad to have someone talk with, even if your qualifications are not an exact match for their openings.
- Aim for a conversation that highlights your communication skills and highlights your curiosity about them and your strengths.
Introduce yourself to the recruiter based on your preparation and ask them a question. Use their answer to that question to introduce one of your talking points. Recognize that it is typical for these initial conversations to last for only 2 to 4 minutes – especially if lines are long!
- Offer your resume and ask for a business card to follow up.
It is okay to write notes as you go – names of people you spoke to, anything interesting that came up in your conversation, additional steps to take. These details will be important for writing thank you messages afterwards.
- It is okay to talk with representatives from organizations you did not research ahead of time.
This is why you are encouraged to bring extra resumes.
Virtual career fairs
- Review your schedule before the fair begins.
For virtual fairs, you need to sign up for individual and group meeting sessions prior to the start of the fair. Be sure to review your schedule so you are ready and on-time for each session.
- Demonstrate professionalism in online interactions.
Demonstrate your professionalism by showing up for your sessions on time (or a few minutes early!). Establish eye contact by looking at your camera (not your computer screen), smiling, and introducing yourself. Be ready to engage with the recruiter and have a conversation.
- Engage in conversations that highlight your communication skills, as well as how your interests and skills align with the organization or role.
Introduce yourself to the recruiter based on your preparation. Ask them questions you have prepared and use their answers to those question with one of your interest or skill-based talking points.
Your opportunity to engage with the recruiters may occur through verbal question and answer or via the chat box. If using the chat box, keep the typing professional as well. Avoid slang, acronyms or emojis, and be conscious of proper spelling. Recognize that many career fair chat boxes do not include spellcheck. Some people like to type chat responses into Word first (to check for spelling mistakes) and then quickly copy and paste into the career fair chat box.
- Have a digital copy of your resume available, and request contact information for next steps.
Have easy access to a digital copy of your resume. If it is requested, you’ll want to be able to send it quickly, without fuss. Additionally, ask the recruiter for contact information or about next steps as the conversation is coming to a close.
- Take notes about the interaction.
At the end of the conversation, thank the recruiter and make some time to step back and write some notes about the experience. These notes can be very important for writing thank you messages and other next steps.
At the career fair, you started the conversation – well done! After the fair, you can cultivate that new network. Here are some steps you can take.
- If recruiters suggested some next steps you could take, take them!
Maybe they encouraged you to apply online, send an email, or look up a job posting. If you want to pursue the connection, do those things now.
- Send a thank you email within 24 hours.
Thank them for their time, and mention something specific from your conversation at the fair. Reiterate your interest in the organization or positions they have available. Attach your resume and/or connect to your LinkedIn account. If you took a recommended action after the fair, tell them about it in this message.
- Keep applying for jobs, networking, and following leads while you wait to hear back.
Career fairs are just ONE part of seeking a job or internship, and it’s good to take multiple approaches.
Would you like help with career fairs at any point in the process? Connect with LAS Career Services staff!