Career Fair Tips: tales from the other side of the table

It’s the end of September and career fair season is going strong. While I was in college, I unfortunately never attended a single fair, and I missed out on so many wonderful opportunities! Unlike applying online or through email, career fairs give you the opportunity to meet face-to-face with a wide variety of employers. You’re able to ask them plenty of questions about their company and internship/job openings while sharing information about yourself.

But now at Indiana INTERNnet, I get to go to so many career fairs throughout the state to let students know how we can help them find their next internship. Being on the other side of the table, I’ve learned a lot about what can help you stand out with recruiters. Here’s some tips:

Dress to impress…

If you’re going to a career fair, you should preferably dress in business professional attire, or business casual at the very least. That means no sweat pants, tee shirts or tennis shoes. If you only have a small window to attend the fair due to your class schedule, you may have to wear your professional outfit to class. It’s better to be overdressed for a lecture than underdressed for a career fair.

I know that professional outfits can be pricey, but deals exist! Try exploring resell shops or your local Goodwill. Some colleges and universities have “closets” with suiting for free for you to keep or borrow for interviews and career fairs. Check out this blog for other money-saving tips.

…but dress for comfort

While you want to look nice at the career fair, you also want to make sure you’re comfortable. At every fair I attend, I always see students walking around with huge blisters on the back of their ankles from shoes that do not fit properly. I also see a handful of students teetering on high heels that are much too high. Before wearing a specific pair of shoes to a career fair, spend a few hours walking around with them on inside your apartment, dorm or house. This will help to break them in and help you decide if you still want to wear them to the fair.

Also, some of the venues I’ve been to are poorly ventilated, so it gets very warm during the career fair, especially when you’re wearing a blazer. Make sure what you’re wearing isn’t too heavy so that you stay comfortable. If you find yourself overheating, take a few minutes to step either into a restroom or outside to cool down.

Be prepared

Here’s what you need:

  • Multiple copies of your resume
  • Padfolio
  • Pen
  • Bottle of water
  • Band-Aids for surprise blisters

Most career fairs provide students with a list of employers who will be there. Take some time before the fair to research what companies you’d like to speak to. All throughout the fairs I attend, I hear so many students ask recruiters, “So, what does INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE do?” That question makes you sound unprepared and uninterested in the opportunity.

Sweat happens

Nerves run high at career fairs and that can lead to a sweaty situation. It happens! Just make sure to dry your hand and dab your forehead before greeting an employer.

It isn’t about the swag

Don’t waste your time asking for more information about a company you have no interest in working for only because you want the swag item they’re passing out. Do you really need another stress ball, USB or pen? But if you INSIST on getting the swag item, just be honest and straight up ask the recruiter if you can have one. Most will say yes and appreciate that you didn’t waste their time as well.

Go alone

It’s always weird when people who come with a friend awkwardly stand in the background while the other person meets with a recruiter. When you go to a career fair alone, you’ll be able to focus on meeting with only the companies you are interested in.

I never thought I would have to say this, but please do not bring your parents to a career fair. It truly happens more than you’d think. It shows a lack of professionalism and independence. Recruiters want to meet you, not your mother.

Just do it

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, I deeply regret that I never attended a career fair as a student. If your school has one coming up this fall, sign up ASAP. You don’t need to be an upperclassman to attend either. There are so many employers who are willing to hire the best candidate, regardless of their level in school. Plus, as a freshman, a career fair gives you the opportunity to develop a relationship with a company that can last your entire undergraduate experience.

If Indiana INTERNnet is at your school’s fair, stop by our booth and say “hello!” We love meeting students who use our site, and we may even have some tips for you to help you find the internship of your dreams.


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