Career Fair Tips That Will Get You Hired

Career fairs are intimidating and challenging. Below are dozens of tips and tricks that will help you stand out at a career fair.

Tips that will make you stand out at a career fair and ultimately get hired arebeing well-prepared, having a top-notch resume, taking pride in your appearance and being conversational.

A Recent Experience at a Career Fair

Recently, I was looking to fill a summer internship position I had open. That search led me to a career fair. I was stunned how clueless and unprepared the students were.

One particular young lady stood out to me. She was looking for an internship in marketing.

Her resume was extremely unimpressive. It listed her GPA of 2.7. It listed her work history, and the most impressive job she had was a job at the mall. It listed her skills, which was all the basic skills everyone has (Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint).

I felt bad for the poor girl.

So I started probing.

Through my questions I learned that she is an accomplished pianist. I also learned that she did not have many extracurricular activities because she was working to support herself through school. Finally, I learned that she was proficient in a reporting software that my company uses to run our business.

I told her that I was going to give her tough love, but the next 15 minutes would be extremely beneficial if she pays attention.

To start, we needed to work on her resume.

There was no need to include her GPA if it isn’t impressive. There is no need to advertise to the world that you are a C Student.

Second, I told her highlight any relevant skills she has, especially as a result of her classes. You never know what tools the person interviewing you uses in their day-to-day. Since we had a mutual experience with a certain software package, we were able to have a good conversation about the tool. Those have to be listed.

Third, she needed to highlight her extracurricular activities. She needed to list that she is working to put herself through college. That tells me she has a tremendous work ethic. She also needed to highlight her accomplishments with the piano. That tells me she has drive and dedication.

Finally, I reminded her that her chosen field was marketing. How can I hire her to market for my company when she did such a poor job marketing herself? She was a very talented young lady, but she did herself a disservice by letting a crummy resume represent her.

I did not offer her a job, but I did spend 15 minutes giving her valuable advice that will greatly help her in her future job search. I hope she takes the advice to heart.

There were numerous other mistakes I noticed at the career fair. I will break them into four categories: Preparation, Resume, Appearance and Conversation. Below is a detailed description of each.

How to Prepare for a Career Fair

I was floored at how unprepared the candidates were for the career fair. Preparation is the key ingredient for success, and just a little bit of effort will make someone stand out tremendously at a career fair. That is because how awfully prepared everyone else will be…

To start your preparation, you must know which companies you want to talk to. Every career fair publishes a list of companies that will be in attendance. Pick the companies that interest you from that list. Be realistic about the time you have. You probably can only hit two or three companies per hour if you are doing this right, so plan accordingly.

After you have made your target list of customers, then you need to look at the website for job postings in your career field and your location. If any interest you, print them off.Even better – actually apply to them. That will give you something great to talk about with a recruiter. More importantly, it shows you have genuine interest in their company and that you are prepared.

Next, do some research on the company. Go to YouTube and watch their homepage video and read the caption next to it. Go to their website. Look for buzz words. Looks for themes. Be prepared to ask questions about it. Your question can be as simple as, “I noticed XYZ on your website, but I’m not quite sure that that means. Can you explain it to me?” Again, that will show genuine interest and that you were prepared.

Most alarming though was how unprepared the individuals were to talk about themselves. You know the first question anyone is going to ask you at a career fair is “tell me about yourself?”

Interviewers don’t want a sophomoric answer. By that, don’t tell me where you were born, what high school you went to and what your major is. Frankly, I don’t care and I can probably read that on your resume. Tell me what you are about. Tell me what makes you tick. Tell me why you are special and what makes you different. Tell me what you are looking for and why you are at the career fair.

There are other questions you know you will be asked. You might get asked “what are your goals?” You may get asked, “why are you interested in our company?”

You need to be prepared to answer, and be prepared with smart answers. The best way to prepare is to actually practice. Find someone you trust that can mentor you through this process. Role play until you are confident in your answers. If you are going to prepare, then do it right.

You Realize Your Resume Represents You Right?

Everyone is different, so there is no telling what will catch an interviewers eye on a resume at a career fair. Mostly likely though, one of the following will catch the recruiter’s eye.

Having relevant skills in the career field is seen as a big plus. Companies are leaner than ever before as Corporate America looks to drive efficiencies by reducing cost. Someone who already has the relevant skills will need less training, and will be able to produce sooner. That makes them very desirable.

If you don’t have the relevant skills, or if you are newer to the workforce, I look for three things:

I look for smart, I look for hustle and I look for achievement.

My thoughts are if you have these characteristics, then I can teach you anything else.

For smart I look at your university and your major. I also look at your GPA if you include it. The more prestigious the school, the smarter I will assume you are. That probably isn’t fair, but I figure if you made it through a tougher admissions process then that must mean something.

I also place a lot of value on the course of study. I have a technical degree. As such, those with liberal arts degrees do not impress me as much. There is nothing wrong with those degrees, but should you have one you need to realize you will have to try a bit harder to impress someone with my background. Be sure you look smart on paper.

Hustle is harder to decipher. It is impossible to access work ethic in a short meeting. As such, I normally drop to the end of your resume and look at your other interests.

I love seeing candidates that excel at sports. That shows competitiveness. I especially love seeing candidates that played sports at high levels such as collegiately. That tells me they are especially dedicated.

For those same reasons, I love seeing Eagle Scouts or any other organization that can show me that the candidate is capable of achieving big goals.

I also look for interesting. Candidates for my openings have to pass the beer test. By that, I mean is the person I’m interviewing has to be someone that I wouldn’t mind having a drink with. If the thought of that interaction seems painful, then I will probably pass on the candidate.

Finally, I look for achievers. As often as possible, your resume should tell what you did, and then quantify the result. If your result can’t be measured, then I really don’t care about it.

For example – it tells me nothing if you say that you were the lead salesman for product XYZ. However, if you tell me that you were the lead salesman for XYZ and sold 100,000 units then that tells me something. Or even better, I will actually be impressed and curious if you tell me you were the lead salesman for XYZ and sold 100,000 units which was a 20% increase over the previous year.

Activity doesn’t equal achievement. I am more interested in the results of your actions than the actual activity.

Some other resume notes which should seem painfully obvious but aren’t:

– Bring plenty of copies.
– Don’t use a fancy format.
– Don’t go to two pages unless you are especially accomplished.
– Don’t have typos. Typos show a lack of attention to detail and immediately find the trash can.
– Don’t have a stupid email address. is idiotic.

Some things I saw on resumes that were especially impressive:

– The things that the candidate really wanted me to see were highlighted. Very clever.
– There was a picture of a candidate in the upper-left-hand corner. I’ll meet hundreds of people at a career fair. Make it easy for me to remember you.
– A resume that was custom for my job offering in the objective.

Appearance: Looks Are Important

I write off a fair number of the candidates as they approach me and before we even meet because of their dress and appearance.

If someone isn’t wearing a suit – I pretty much write them off. My thoughts are if they don’t care enough to put their best foot forward when trying to get a job, then what can I expect when they are hired?

Some other things that I notice that seem obvious but probably aren’t:

– I don’t want to see tattoos. They are never ok for a business setting. If you have ink, be sure to cover it up.
– I need a firm handshake. Flippy, flimsy handshakes give the wrong first impression.
– I don’t need to see cleavage. Too much boobage is extremely unprofessional. Same goes for leg.
Pay attention to your shoes, because know I will. If your shoes are shined, I will notice and be impressed.
– I know you are nervous. I get it. We’ve all been there. However, hide your nerves and force a warm smile. You want to appear warm and engaging. People like happy people more than unhappy people.
– Realize that I really don’t want to be here. I have a million others things that are being put on hold so I can meet you. As such, be sure to thank me for my time.
– If I see your cell phone you are dead to me.
– One girl had very strong body odor, and another was way too heavy on the perfume. Both were bad and turnoffs.
– I may be in the minority here, but I think facial hair is very unprofessional especially if you are young. I know there are others that feel the same way. I recommend shaving before any job interview. If you insist on keeping facial hair, then make sure it is neatly groomed.
– I am put off by candidates who are loaded up with giveaways from the career fair. If you have 50 trinkets in your possession from every booth at the fair, I will think you are in it for the junk and not for a job. If you want to look professional, show up with a small portfolio to hold your resumes, and that’s it.
– Another put-off are people who travel in groups. If you aren’t mature enough to job hunt on your own, then I doubt you are mature enough for my job.

Conversation: How to Connect to Companies at a Career Fair

We addressed a lot of this in the preparation section, but there are some other subtleties that need to be addressed.

You have to be appear confident, even if you aren’t. It is very obvious why both of us are there. I need an employee, and you need a job. I will be impressed if you look me in the eye, and walk right up to me with a sense of purpose. Your chance for success is much lower if you are timid and wander up to me without confidence.

To build your confidence, start by talking to the companies on the bottom of your list. That way, if you bomb it won’t hurt as much. After several practice sessions with the bottom companies on your list, you will be more prepared to talk to the companies you really desire.

You must speak well. If you don’t speak clearly I will think you aren’t smart, regardless of what your resume says. Limit the ‘likes’ and ‘ums’ in your vocabulary. Like mentioned above, you must practice what you are going to say so it comes out clearly.

Avoid negatives – even if you are trying to be funny. I was talking with one candidate recently who was super out-going. He made a joke that he doesn’t like people. I understood the joke, but my colleague who was half-paying attention did not. Also, don’t go out of your way to highlight your negatives at this point. The fact is we all have things we are working on. Your goal is to get a job interview. Don’t sabotage yourself by giving the interview a reason to say no to you.

Avoid rambling. I know you have a lot to say, but I don’t have a lot of time or attention to hear it. Stick to your key points. I’ll ask if I want to know more.

You need to realize who you are speaking to, and the goal of each conversation.

If you are talking to HR, then they will not make the hiring decisions. They are the gatekeeper that determines if you make it to the interview stage.

If you are talking to a junior employee, then they are probably filling in for someone who couldn’t make it. They probably are told the tell HR who the really good candidates are, but their opinions won’t hold much weight. I’d advise avoiding this person if you can.

If you are talking to the hiring manager for an open position, then you are very fortunate. Most managers will not take the time to attend these events. They will get HR to do the weeding out for them.

If you do find yourself with a hiring manager, then ask a lot of questions about their open position. Ask what they are looking for in a candidate. Ask what the job responsibilities entail. Ask what the challenges are. If you have any of the skills that make you a good fit, don’t be shy – take advantage of the opportunity to share them.

For all – the goal is to get an interview.To do that, start by asking the interviewing what they are looking for in their open position. Once they establish what they are looking for, explain how you and your experiences are a perfect match.

If the interviewer turns the tables on you, and says that there are a lot of positions open and asks what you are looking for – be prepared to answer. This will happen the majority of the time, so you need to be prepared.

Once it is clear you have made a good impression, ask what they next steps are. If they are vague, ask if you can interview for the job. If they say that someone will reach out to you, then thank them because that was your goal. Once you get a ‘yes’, then leave.

Before you leave though, be sure to ask for a business card. If they don’t have one, ask for a way to get in contact with them. You will need this for two purposes.

The first is it is likely that your name gets lost in the shuffle. Hundreds or people will be met that day, and it is very easy for someone to slip through the cracks. Don’t let that happen to you. Second, you must send a follow-up email. Even better is a hand written thank you. Regardless, you must always follow-up.

Finally, when you leave, be sure to thank them for their time and give another good handshake.

Before you move to your next booth, take a moment to jot down any notes about the conversation. You are going to be meeting dozens of people at the career fair, and it will be impossible to remember every conversation. Take two minutes to jot down some important notes that you can review later.

Career fairs are hard work. Hopefully some of the tips above will help you be more successful.

Career Fair Checklist:


Create list of companies you want to visit
Research those companies and take notes
Look for job openings and apply if possible


Dry Clean Clothes
Shine Shoes
Get a Haircut
Get A Good Night’s Sleep
Get a Portfolio to Hold Resumes
Cut Fingernails


Update Resume
Have trusted advisor check for typos
Print enough for the fair
Make sure all bullets show a result


Prepare answer for “Tell me about yourself”
Prepare two or three stories you want to tell
Remember to be confident
Remember to ask for contact info
Don’t forget to follow-up

Great Resources on YouTube

One Final Story

One final story from a career fair I recently attended.

I had a summer internship position opened. I met with a few candidates, and talked to them about my position. If they seemed like someone I wanted to talk to again, I challenged them to a test.

I told them to send me an email following up next week and we’ll talk. I didn’t give them a business card or any other way to find me. I figured if they wanted my job bad enough, they would figure it out.

As I told this story to a few of my buddies that night, they asked me what would happen if one of the candidates showed up on my doorstep with a six pack?

I thought about it, and thought that I’d instantly hire them.

Remember, it is the extra in life that will take you a long way – whether in career fairs or in other aspects of your life. Strive to stand out and rise about the crowd. It will make your life richer and more fulfilling.

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