Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Job Fair

Participants at a job fair
••• Isabela Habur / Getty Images

When you're job searching, take some time to attend job fairs. You'll have the opportunity to meet with employers that you might not be able to access any other way, and job fairs and career expos often offer networking programs, resume reviews and workshops for job seekers.

What can you do to compete with the crowds attending job fairs? These tips will help you get ready to attend and maximize your opportunities while you're there.

Dress for success. Attend the job fair dressed for success in professional interview attire, and carry a portfolio. Your interview attire should err on the side of the conservative: a neatly pressed, solid color suit, dark dress shoes and minimal jewelry, accessorizing and makeup. Make sure that all tattoos are covered. Wear comfortable shoes, because you will be standing in line.

Practice a pitch. Practice a quick pitch summarizing your skills and experience so you're ready to promote your candidacy to prospective employers. Also called an “elevator speech” (because it should only be 30 to 60 seconds long, the time the typical ride on an elevator takes), this pitch should enthusiastically explain who you are, what your skills are and what your career goal is. The more you practice this pitch beforehand, the more confident you’ll feel delivering it at the job fair.

Bring supplies. Bring extra copies of your resume, pens, a notepad and business cards with your name, your email address and cell phone number.

You might also want to consider bringing "mini resume" cards as an efficient way to sum up your candidacy. 

Research companies. Many job fairs and career expos have information on participating companies on the job fair website. Be prepared to talk to hiring managers by checking out the company's website, mission, open positions and general information before you go.

If you demonstrate knowledge about each company or manager you're talking to, you'll certainly stand out from the crowd.

Arrive early. Keep in mind that lines can be long, so arrive early, before the fair officially opens.

Attend a workshop. If the job fair has workshops or seminars, attend them. In addition to getting job search advice, you'll have more opportunities to network.

Network. While you are waiting in line, talk to others and exchange business cards. You never know who might be able to help with your job search. Along the same lines, remember to stay polite and professional. Even if you're feeling discouraged in your job search, don't vent to other fair-goers about your situation or about any specific companies. Stay positive and make the most of the opportunity.

Show initiative. Shake hands and introduce yourself to recruiters when you reach the table. Maintain direct eye contact. Demonstrate your interest in the company and their job opportunities.

Be enthusiastic. Employer surveys identify one of the most important personal attributes candidates can bring to a new position as enthusiasm. This means that employers want to see you smile.

Ask questions. Have some questions ready for the company representatives that illustrate your knowledge of their organization.

Employers are not merely looking for the most skilled candidate for the job; they are looking for candidates who are truly interested in their company. The more you engage them, focusing the discourse upon their company’s needs, the better the impression you'll make.

Collect business cards. Collect business cards so you have the contact information for the people you have spoken with. After you get home, immediately compile this information into a contact list and use it to send “Connect” requests on LinkedIn.

Take notes. It's hard to keep track when you're meeting with multiple employers in a busy environment. Jot down notes on the back of the business cards you have collected or on your notepad, so you have a reminder of whom you spoke to about what.

Say thank you. Take the time to send a brief follow up thank-you note or email to the company representatives you met at the job fair.

It's a good way to reiterate your interest in the company and to remind company representatives that you're a strong candidate.