Preparing for Career Fairs & Events

4 images of students speaking with organizational representatives at career fairs

Career fairs and networking events are an excellent way to explore organizations and opportunities, gain experience networking in professional settings, and connect with recruiters hiring for positions you are interested in. In addition to the resources below, check out the storify of the latest #UMNCareerChat on Successfully Navigating a Career Fair to get perspective from recruiters and UMN alumni. 

Before the Event

Research

Research is a key piece of event prep and can help you feel more confident going into the experience. Some essentials:

  • Look over the fair or event website in advance for preparation tips, maps, locations, etc.
  • Review the list of organizations and people attending the event, and the positions they are hiring for. Make note of the organizations you are most interested in interacting with and prioritize your list based on your career goals. 
  • Research the organizations you are interested in. Visit organizations' websites and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.). Check the organization out on glassdoor and do a thorough online search to see if they have launched any new initiatives, products, etc. The UMN Libraries also have company research databases with information not readily available elsewhere online. 
  • Reflect on the skills and experiences you would bring to this organization and to the specific positions you are interested in applying for. What do you most want to highlight about yourself as a candidate for this organization/opportunity?  This is great preparation for talking with representatives at the event, and for possible interviews that may result from your interactions. 

Update Your Resume

Tailor your resume to highlight the skills and experiences given the organizations and positions you are interested in. Review our resume writing resources, attend a drop-in resume review, or meet with your career advisor. Bring many copies of your resume to the fair- enough for the organizations you researched and extra copies for organizations you might connect with spontaneously. Keep in mind that many organizations may not accept resumes at the event, but will direct you to apply online- this is often a necessary part of their human resources process. 

Practice Introducing Yourself

Most interactions at a career fair or event will begin with some form of you introducing yourself. In a career fair context, this is commonly known as a "personal commerical" or "elevator pitch"- a brief overview of your professional identity that may include 2-3 sentences about your education, experience, skills, and interest in that organization. We encourage you to practice introducing yourself out loud with your career advisor, friends, and family. Ask for feedback on your handshake (firm is the norm in the US), the length of your intro, content, and nonverbal communication. For additional suggestions, check out our PDF iconPersonal Commercial Handout

Consider Your Career Fair Strategy

Creating a plan that takes into consideration your personal preferences and the logistical parameters of the day will help you feel most confident going into the event. A few things to consider:

  • What makes me feel most comfortable and confident? How can I best sustain my energy at the event? 
    Many students use a "warm up" strategy at career fairs. They will look at their prioritized list of organizations and start with the organizations they are less excited about in order to practice their introduction and work out some nerves. You might also consider doing a lap of the space to just observe when you arrive at the event to help you get acclimated and feel confident. Most career fair spaces have a "lounge" or "rest" space for students- consider how you might use this space to take a break between conversations to re-engergize. 

  • How much time do I have to spend at the event? How many organizations am I hoping to talk to? When am I arriving to the event?
    Many career fairs are offered during a specific window of time (ex. 1:00-5:00pm) and students are welcome to drop into the event for any amount of time during that window. We are often asked when the best time to arrive to a fair is. Consider your own schedule and your energy levels- when are you at your best? Also consider the recruiters attending the event- some have the most energy more toward the beginning of the event, so you may want to arrive on the earlier side of the time window. As your schedule allows, leave yourself ample time to connect with the organizations you are interested in. 

Dress for Success

Research appropriate attire ahead of time- the standard at most career events is business formal attire. Consider if your attire and personal grooming aligns with your professional brand. For ideas and attire inspiration, check out our pinterest page. Pro tip- you do not need to spend a lot of money to create your professional outfit. Many of our students have put together excellent outfits using thrift store finds. 

At the Event

Implement your career fair strategy plan with flexibility- we encourage you to stay open to communicating with organizations you might not have planned on and respond to changing circumstances with adaptability. Introduce yourself to recruiters using your personal commercial, share information about your relevant experience and demonstrate interest in their organization utilizing the research you conducted and the questions you prepared. Share your resume or make notes of how to apply online. 

Set yourself up for success after the event by asking about the best way for you to follow up with the organization is and getting contact information. After the conversation, write down a few notes about who you talked with, conversation highlights, and any next steps to help you stay organized and craft tailored follow-up communication. 

After the Event

Be sure to follow through on any action steps you discussed (ex. applying online, connecting on LinkedIn) and send a thank you email to the people you connected with at the fair. Utilize the notes you took to highlight something specific about your conversation, the organization, or the position. Think about what content you can include to help your email stand out and to help the person receiving the email remember you and your conversation. Reiterate your interest in the organization and mention any additional steps, such as "I have submitted my application online as you recommended." 

For International Students

Are you familiar with the work authorization options for F-1, J-1, and H1-B visas? Consult ISSS' online resources and consider making an appointment with an ISSS advisor to discuss your options. Additionally, check out this video from UMN Career Services on how to succeed at a career fair.