Ten basic steps to ace your upcoming career fair

For better or for worse, you likely will only get to experience a career fair a handful of times in your life. Career fairs can can feel like a pretty foreign environment, transforming a casual academic environment into one with professional polish and courtesies.
With each career fair experience you will take away certain learnings to help inform how to best approach your next career fair. The best way to master the career fair experience is to immerse yourself in the process, understand the "ins and outs", and learn from the experience of being there. 
The key preparing for your career fair is feeling your best, so that you are comfortable with each interaction. The best way to make this great first impression is to know that you've done your homework and are making the most of this valuable opportunity to speak one-on-one with your potential next employer. Below are the best tips we've uncovered in our experience with career fairs to help ensure you put your best foot forward and make the most of the experience.
  1. Prepare your professional appearance: A highly professional appearance is one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself and make a stellar first impression. For men and women alike, this primarily means professional and properly fitting attire. If you know that you aren't particularly stylish, consider enlisting stylish friends or fashion blogs to help guide your wardrobe choices. Your polished and professional appearance will help differentiate you from your peers and make the most of the 30 seconds you have with the recruiter.

  2. Finalize and print your resume. Before hitting print, share your resume with friends and classmates for proofreading and feedback. Plan to finalize your resume 3 or 4 days prior to the career fair so that you can focus on other aspects of the career fair in the days prior. Plan to bring 20+ copies of your resume to the career fair to distribute to potential employers. If you don't have convenient printer access, you can have resumes printed and delivered to your door through Resumates, beginning at $11.95+

  3. Work on your elevator pitch and tone. Expect to have only 30 precious seconds with a potential employer to introduce yourself and communicate why you are interested in applying for a role with their company. You may have more time than this, but rehearse the first 30 seconds. Practice this conversation in the mirror and with friends and classmates. Focus on your tone and tempo, signaling your confidence, professionalism, and ability to manage your nerves. You'll want to avoid feeling rushed by cramming in a lengthy introduction, so keep it simple. You don't need to solve the problems of the world in those first 30 seconds, you just need to introduce yourself, and communicate genuine interest in the role.

  4. Research the companies attending the career fair, and the roles that they are recruiting. This information is generally published by your career resource center and often emailed to students prior to the career fair. Be open-minded, you should be focused on the role as much as the company itself. You may be drawn to apply at Apple or Google because you love their products, but you may also find that they are only seeking recruits for design internships while you are seeking a full-time role in finance. Not to say that attempting to talk your way into a role that isn't available isn't an admirable effort, but consider how you want to allocate your limited time at the career fair.

  5. Prioritize a finite list of company booths to visit. Consider visiting these booths in their reverse order of appeal, so that you have had a few practice pitches before you reach your favorite booths. If there is a map of the career fair layout prior, print it out and bring it with you so that you can navigate with purpose.

  6. Purchase a leather portfolio. You will need a secure place to hold your resumes, and can also expect to receive a variety of pamphlets and flyers at each booth. You'll want to avoid holding these in your hand or stuffing them in a backpack. If you are unable to purchase a leather portfolio because you spent all your money on suit alterations, purchase the most professional folder you can find at the student bookstore or at Target.

  7. Try to avoid bringing your backpack. You want to have a professional impression that feels like the career fair was your most important destination that day, not a stop between classes (even if is!). If you must have a backpack, find a way to keep it out of the way, such as setting it down near each booth just prior to having each conversation.

  8. Bring an energized tone and a smile. Career fairs are exhausting for both the recruiter and the applicant. Avoid wearing this exhaustion on your sleeve by offering yourself a quick pep talk before each introduction (you got this!).

  9. Have a short memory. Remind yourself that you only need one great conversation with a recruiter to have a successful day at the career fair. Some of your introductions may feel like the missed the mark, or perhaps you stumbled over your words while answering a basic question about the weather. This is part of the learning process, and this is okay. Every new recruiter is a fresh start. Take a moment to hydrate, clear your head, and get back in there.

  10. Always be closing. More often than not, recruiters nudge each applicant to apply online. This can be disheartening after finally having one of your most positive and engaging conversation of the day! If prompted to apply online, feel comfortable asking if there is any additional step that you may take to ensure that your application considered or reviewed. Politely emphasize your interest in the role and excitement about the opportunity. You may get lucky and receive a business card to contact the recruiter directly.

A career fair isn't unlike a sporting event or competition. With the right preparation, and enough resilience, you will be able to make the most of each opportunity. Best of luck!