5 Ways to Win at Your College Job Fair (and How to Seal the Deal)

It's a familiar situation to many of us: Students milling around in a sea of kiosks, passing out stacks of resumes and receiving branded folders and plastic keychains in return. Not super inspiring, right? It can be hard to feel like you're doing something meaningful in a scene like that.

Contrary to how it may seem, however, the college job fair can bring in some strong job leads if you play your cards right. Try out these 5 moves the next time one comes to your school, you might be surprised at just how effective a little bit of effort can be.

Winning job fair move #1: Know what you want

Knowing exactly what you want can give you a leg up at your college career fair.

Easier said than done, right? After all, if it was that easy to know what you wanted to do for a living, would job fairs even exist?

Fortunately, students like you have some pretty potent resources available to help narrow it down — especially online education tools — whether you're looking to be introduced to a new industry or dig deeper into a discipline you've already chosen. Career services advisers have spent years learning how to point students in the right occupational direction, and it's far easier to develop a sharp job fair strategy once you have a solid idea of the trajectory you want to take. Explore career ideas or take a quiz to find out your career path for more insight into your future. 

Winning job fair move #2: Do your research

Brushing up on research before a career fair can be a boost to your chances of success.

Student services departments typically publicize the list of companies they expect at a job fair, and that information might be the best tool you have to make the most of your opportunity. If you need help deciding which type of career to pursue after school's out, read about business careers, legal careers, health care careers, and STEM careers, to start.

Here's a quick three-step guide to the research portion of job fair success:

  1. Find out who's going to be at the fair — flyers may be posted in residence hall lobbies, on bulletin boards near an advising center or elsewhere on campus.
  2. Pick a handful of companies that speak to your interests and do at least a few minutes of research into their business to discover ways in which your skills and personality might relate to their mission and culture.
  3. Put together some specific questions for recruiters that make it clear you've looked past the surface level of their company and have given real thought to how each of you benefits the other.

Of course, no strategy can absolutely guarantee that you'll stand out as a top prospect, but approaching a recruiter from a place of real knowledge can up your chances of being noticed. There are likely to be so many students barely grazing the surface of each company that a single well-informed potential recruit has a shot to make a pretty favorable impression.

Winning job fair move #3: Brush up your paperwork

Getting your resume ready ahead of time can help you connect better with company reps.

You're going to need a résumé for most of your working life, and a well-built one can go a long way in the hiring process. Here are a few tips on how to make yours stand out from the stack:

  • Be brief. There's almost no recruiter or HR rep anywhere who pores delicately over every CV they see, particularly in a busy career fair setting. Don't over-explain, stick to the highlights and try to build one that fits almost exactly on a single page.
  • Target your experience. It's likely that certain bits of your educational and employment history are more relevant to certain jobs than others. Don't embellish or invent any information, but focus on legitimate experiences of yours that present you as uniquely qualified for a particular position at your target company.
  • Don't be shy. If there's anywhere to avoid humility it's in the listing of your attributes on a résumé. Some experts suggest using two distinct parts: a top section plainly asserting your abilities and achievements and the bottom half showing your work history, education and other supporting biographical info.

If you can get a few recommendation letters, also — addressed to specific recruiters if possible, specific companies if not — it might demonstrate just how serious you are and can strengthen your case for employment.

Winning job fair move #4: Dress for success

Dress for success and show how professional you can be.

It's not a ton of fun to talk about the importance of your appearance in the hiring process, but pretending that it doesn't matter may result in you wasting all that good preparation, which can be even less fun. Barring just a few exceptions, recruiters are more likely to receive the information about your impressive qualities if you look the way they expect a good candidate to look.

Now, that's not to say you need to go out and break the bank on a whole new wardrobe for the occasion, but try and go at least a few shades above campus casual. A business-style suit, while it may seem out of place on the quad, is the most common career fair recommendation by job search experts.

You might find you can learn more about what to expect on the job, including trends in work attire, by aiming for a summer internship while in college. 

Winning job fair move #5: Prepare to be interviewed

You should already study basic interviewing skills beforehand in case you're given the chance on the spot.

Recruiters at a job fair don't often have a ton of time to spend on every single candidate, but they'll likely want to have a quick one-on-one with you if you strike them as potentially a good fit for their company. These preliminary interviews tend to be shorter affairs than you might see in a slower-paced hiring environment, but it's a good idea to prepare yourself with answers to a few standard lines of inquiry:

  • Your personal statement (an answer to "Tell me about yourself.")
  • Why you'd be a good fit for the company
  • Expansions of the items listed on your resume

There are plenty of job interview guides out there on the Web, also, in case you want to prepare for a full interview as well. Frankly, if the recruiter has time and you've impressed them enough, it's not exactly outside the realm of possibility.

Sealing the deal: The follow-up

After you've done the dance with your target companies (and a few others for good measure, maybe), there's still one last bit of work to do. That evening, call or email the recruiters you talked to and thank them personally for taking the time to meet with you.

You don't have to say much, just a quick thank-you and a reminder that you're excited to talk more about your prospective future with their company. Again, there's nothing that will guarantee that you get the job you want, but putting a little effort in the right places can definitely boost your chances while still in school.

1. Job Fair Success, CollegeGrad, accessed February 10, 2015, https://collegegrad.com/jobsearch/job-fair-success
2. "3 Tips for Students to Ace Job Fairs," U.S. News and World Report, Emily Bennington, January 17, 2012, accessed April 22, 2019, http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/hired-before-graduation/2012/01/17/3-tips-for-students-to-ace-job-fairs
3. Resume Writing - How to Write a Masterpiece of a Resume, Rockport Institute, accessed April 22, 2019, https://rockportinstitute.com/resources/how-to-write-a-masterpiece-of-a-resume/