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How to Navigate a College Career Fair

College career fairs at a first glance can be overwhelming, but the truth is they are a great way to maximize the return on your job search. How often do you get to connect with dozens of employers and network with numerous professionals in the span of an hour or so? There aren’t too many occasions that come to mind.

Since IDR regularly finds raw talent through college career fairs, we’ve learned which common traits the most effective jobseekers share. Success at these events doesn’t require years of work experience or a genius level intellect. What matters most is preparation, professionalism, and use of the following career fair tactics:

Learn Which Companies Will Attend

In the information age, people with unique knowledge have the most bargaining chips. For career fairs, those bargaining chips are gained by researching the companies scheduled to attend. Yet finding them may take some digging, depending on your university.

Some schools clearly advertise them on an events or career resources page of their website. Others, seem to keep that information hush-hush. In those instances, reach out to the career counselling center or appropriate organization to obtain a list.

Once you know the attendees, research their background, industry, accomplishments, and values until you know them by heart. The most memorable candidates we see know considerable details about who we are and what we do.

Dress As If It Were an Interview

As tempting as it is to shoot for Zuckerberg chic all throughout college, a career fair isn’t a hoodie and sweatpants, “I-just-rolled-out-of-bed” gathering. On the job search spectrum, these events fall somewhere between professional meet-and-greet and job interview. Because of that, your attire should reflect your professional intentions.

For women, there are seasonal options. During cooler temperatures, black or grey slacks with a fitted monochrome blazer are best. During warmer temperatures, a tasteful, mid-length dress or black skirt and blazer are alternatives. Earrings and jewelry should be simple and not distracting.

For men, there are only a few rules. Since it’s not an interview, a full suit and tie combo is not necessary. However, you will see jobseekers wearing that and it doesn’t hurt their chances. At the very least, wear ironed slacks and a dress shirt with a matching belt and polished dress shoes. Though a tie is not required, it never hurts.

Have Your Custom Resumes Ready

Some students casually walk into a career fair without any printed materials. Others have a stack of identical resumes they indiscriminately hand out at every booth. However, our favorites are those who bring resumes clearly fitted to the employers who interest them most.

Cookie cutter resumes never do as well. Though successful jobseekers aren’t rebuilding their resume from the bedrock up, they do make tweaks to fit their audience. Without foreknowledge of the companies attending, this is a near impossible feat, but your research pulls double duty with your resume.

Since a resume acts as a mnemonic memento for career fair attendees, you want it to reinforce the fact that you prepared to speak with them. Before writing it, review a company’s current job advertisements and about us page to learn what you can. Then, include all the appropriate jobs, responsibilities, and outcomes that mirror their values. Be the person employers already envision on their team.

Treat It Like a Mini-Interview

In some ways, a college career fair is speed dating for the job search world. Successful jobseekers ask questions and concisely convey their job compatibility. For an interview, you typically have answers and anecdotes ready. However, jobseekers need to direct career fair conversation. You’ll be asked some questions, but if you want your best stories to be heard, you need to speak up.

Ask yourself: “what makes me appealing to each employer?” Pick tangible examples from any of your work experience or college years. Then, make them into story skeletons rather than anything meaty. That means convey the problem, your quick thought process, the resolution, and the results. Keep it brief and employers will be all the more impressed.

Walk Away a Success

After making a memorable impression, successful jobseekers end on a high note. They thank employers for their time, ask for a business card, and move on to the next opportunity.

If the rapport with a specific employer is extraordinary, it can be tempting to lose track of time. But it’s better to give as many employers a chance as possible. You might be surprised by what one has to offer.

For example, even if you haven’t imagined yourself in sales and recruiting, it is worth giving a chance. If the company seems to be a fit, you may find a career that you truly love. In fact, IDR is hiring new team members now. You can either stop by one of the career fairs we will be attending to meet us first-hand or visit our website and learn what it’s like to work at IDR.


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