How to Leverage Job Fairs to Land Your First Job

The Prepped Team

November 24, 2022

5 Minutes

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How to Leverage Job Fairs to Land Your First Job

Landing your first job after graduation is a huge accomplishment, but getting there is no easy task. The process—from searching for employment opportunities to preparing for interviews—can be daunting and time consuming. Job fairs can be an opportunity to consolidate your search efforts and shorten the time it usually takes to make a connection with potential employers, submit your resume, and have your first interview.

In this article, we cover the benefits of a job fair, how to prepare for one, as well as how to expertly leverage job fairs to land your first job and kickstart your career.

In this article:

What is a job fair? 

A job fair is an event where multiple employers and recruiters come together, in-person or virtually, to meet candidates to interview and hire for open positions. A job fair may also sometimes be referred to as a career fair, job expo, or hiring fair. 

At in-person job fairs, each employer has a booth or display set up to meet numerous candidates (sometimes hundreds) over a short period of time, from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Job fairs are commonly held in cities across Canada. A career fair may be dedicated to a certain career level, skilled trade, or industry, such as engineering or hospitality and tourism.

As a recent (or soon-to-be) graduate, you’ve likely noticed that many universities and colleges hold career fairs each year for their students. Some career fairs are intended for graduates of specific programs, such as healthcare, accounting, or business administration, while larger fairs are open to all students and feature employers across multiple industries and professions.

Advantages of attending job fairs as a new graduate

The prospect of entering a room full of employers ready to interview candidates may fill some new graduates with optimism, and others with dread. Certainly, career fairs can seem overwhelming when you’re just starting your job search. But avoiding them completely may cost you opportunities to build your career. Here are the advantages to attending a job fair as a new graduate. 

Meet multiple employers

Job fairs offer a rare opportunity to meet several employers in one place—all of whom are intent on hiring immediately or in the near future. You can learn about open positions in different companies, and get insights on their work cultures, compensation, and values through one-on-one chats with recruiters, all in one day.

Learn about your industry

As a recent graduate with little or no work experience, you may not be familiar with your desired industry outside of the technical knowledge learned through your studies. A career expo is the perfect opportunity to discover new information about an industry, such as potential career paths, latest trends, innovations, typical hiring practices, most desired qualifications, opportunities for upskilling, and more. Armed with this knowledge, you can better customize your job search and resume to land your dream first job.

Network with recruiters and professionals

While there are multiple ways to build a network online, meeting face-to-face is often the most effective way to make a good first impression and a lasting connection. At a job fair—even if it’s virtual—you have the opportunity to meet multiple recruiters and professionals in your desired field of work within a short time frame, making it much easier to reach out via LinkedIn later to stay in touch.

On-the-spot interviews

Usually, an interview call can come weeks, even months, after submitting a job application. At a job fair, on-the-spot interviews are not uncommon to fill urgent positions, enabling you to get much closer to a job offer in a lot less time. In most cases, recruiters are trying to get through multiple candidates in a day, so on-the-spot interviews are just the screening round and tend to be shorter. Often, these job interviews can feel less stressful because recruiters may be just as eager to impress you, as you are to impress them in a relatively informal environment.

Skip the ATS screening

Many companies utilize Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to scan resumes and filter out those that don’t fit a specific set of criteria. When you’re meeting a hiring manager at a job fair, you can make a good first impression without your resume undergoing the usual scrutiny and ATS software filters that are common in the Canadian job market.

Simplify your interview prep

Preparing for an interview typically requires a lot of time to research and practice your responses to prove your candidacy for a job. A job fair eliminates some of the repetition of interview prep work. Whether you have one or five on-the-spot interviews, the level of preparation required isn’t significantly different. You can create a common elevator pitch, one set of questions for the interviewers, and a resume. Of course, to really stand out, you can always customize your resume (or send in a customized version later) and elevator pitch at the last minute with company-specific information. Don’t forget the time and effort you save on travel and getting dressed up for one event, rather than having to do so for individual interviews at multiple times and locations.

10 tips to stand out at job fair and position yourself as a strong candidate

There can be anywhere from dozens to thousands of attendees at a career fair. What can you do to set yourself apart from other candidates and impress employers? Making a good first impression is key at an event like this, as you may have only a few minutes to talk to each employer before another candidate takes your place. Here, we provide some guidance on how to portray yourself as a strong candidate at a job fair—both in-person and virtual. 

  1. Research companies

Take the time to investigate the companies that will be at the career expo, creating a shortlist of those you definitely want to meet, followed by companies that would be nice to meet, and lastly those that you’ll visit if you have time. This way, you won’t run out of time before meeting with employers you are most interested in. If you have time leftover, you can navigate to employers further down in your priority list.

  1. Prepare your introduction

When you meet an employer, you don’t want to suddenly be tongue-tied and unsure of what to say. Before the job fair, write down your qualities and experience to highlight. Then, develop a 30 second to one minute elevator pitch that includes all the details you want a prospective employer to know. Your elevator pitch is essentially a brief introduction that explains your qualifications and why you’re a good fit for the job. Remember to prepare answers for commonly asked interview questions, such as ‘tell me about yourself,’ or ‘why do you want to work here?’ But keep in mind, job fairs also are set up to encourage applicants to learn about the companies. So, consider questions you want to ask your target employers, so you can later compare responses.

  1. Quality over quantity

Avoid the urge to fit in as many interviews into your day as possible. Instead, spend quality time speaking with employers you’re really interested in working for (your shortlist.) Remember, the objective is not just to meet recruiters, but to leave a memorable impression. Even if you don’t get an interview that day, the information you gain will be valuable if you decide to apply for a job at the company later.

  1. Bring resumes

Bring copies of your resume with you and store them in an envelope or folder that’s easily accessible from your bag and protects them from creases. You may want to customize your resume for the companies you’ve shortlisted to make a strong first impression. If you’re interested in more than one type of job, create a resume for each one and bring extra copies. Just make sure you hand the right one to each potential employer you meet! Also leave a copy of your resume for recruiters or employers who are busy and unable to talk to you.

  1. Be professional

Be aware of your body language when you meet employers. It’s important to show confidence, but also be respectful. Shake hands, make eye contact, smile, and genuinely listen when being spoken to. Avoid slumping your shoulders or looking down at your feet as this can be construed as lack of interest and low self-confidence. Don’t be in a rush to move to the next booth when someone’s speaking to you, as it may be construed as disinterest or even rudeness. As you would in an interview, turn off notifications on your phone or switch it off, so you don’t get distracted while talking to a recruiter.

  1. Dress appropriately 

How you present yourself matters, and dressing professionally is always your best bet. Consider how you would dress if you were attending a job interview. However, also keep in mind it’s okay to dress according to the industry you want to work in–video game designers are likely going to dress more casually than finance professionals, for example–and, how you dress can indicate your understanding of the industry. Make sure your shoes are comfortable, as you’ll likely be on your feet for the whole day.

  1. Ask for next steps

Be sure to ask for the contact details of every employer you speak with at the job fair and ask what are the next steps you should take to follow up. Business cards are usually available at every booth, but if not, make a note in your phone of who you spoke to in each company. Not every employer may have suitable job openings, but building connections at the start of your career is essential to open doors for future employment.

  1. Be tech ready for virtual job fairs

Many career fairs have gone online. When attending a virtual job fair, test your tech beforehand and turn off or snooze all electronic distractions, such as app notifications, text messages, and phone calls. When entering online chats or meetings, have your mic on mute, unless you’re asking or answering questions. Keep your video on, so employers know who they’re speaking to and can recognize you when it’s time for further interviews.

  1. Prepare your virtual background

Consider your environment in advance of a virtual job fair so you know what shows up in your background. Be aware of what the employer may see or hear, such as your dog barking or family members walking by. The ideal setting is distraction-free for both you and the employer. Use headphones if you’re concerned about background noise.

  1. Use clear professional language

Job fairs can feel more informal than a traditional interview setting, but that doesn’t mean you’re not being evaluated. Make sure your language is professional at all times, and if you’re in a virtual fair, refrain from using emojis. Avoid interrupting employers when they are speaking, and if in doubt, rephrase their questions to make sure you understand. Even when you’re not at a booth or talking to a recruiter, act professionally. You never know when someone important may be observing you.

What should you bring to a job fair?

If you’re attending your first job fair, you may wonder what to bring with you to make the most of the event. Here are some common items candidates should take along to ensure they have a successful experience:

  • Your resume: Be sure to bring several copies of your resume. Consider customizing your resume to the employers you are targeting, as well as jobs that you wish to apply for.
  • Business cards: If you have business cards, bring them! They can be a simple way to pass along your contact details to employers you speak with. The card should include your name, degree or diploma, phone number, email, and URL for your LinkedIn profile.
  • Your portfolio: Some industries, such engineering, advertising, and journalism want to see concrete examples of your work to assess your candidacy. Consider bringing a portfolio—print or digital—that includes your most relevant works.
  • Academic credentials: It’s not likely you’ll be asked to provide your transcript at a job fair, however, you should be prepared to communicate your GPA should they ask. Having a copy of your credentials on-hand can’t hurt, either.
  • A list of your references: While most employers do not request references until after the interview process, you may be able to set yourself apart from the competition by providing references immediately. This can also help speed up the hiring process.
  • Notes from your research: While preparing for the job fair, jot down a few key notes about each employer you plan to approach. Bring them with you for quick reference before speaking to each employer to help make a positive first impression and boost your confidence.
  • A notepad or phone: If you’re talking to several employers in a short time span, you may struggle to remember what you learn. Have a notepad—either paper or digital—to make notes regarding each employer, contact information, application requirements, and follow up actions. Don’t rely solely on your memory!
  • Updated LinkedIn profile: Make sure the LinkedIn app is installed on your phone and your profile is current so you feel confident sharing your profile with potential employers and can search up and ask to connect to recruiters’ profiles on-the-spot.
  • Freshen up supplies: A full day at a career fair can be exhausting, so consider packing a few toiletries to freshen up during breaks. An extra top may also come in handy if you accidentally spill coffee on your crisp white shirt or just need a fresh change to boost your energy.
  • Water: Bring a refillable water bottle to stay refreshed as you navigate the career fair. Talking non-stop can take a toll on your vocal cords, and cause a dip in your energy. A small snack may help, as well. Remember: you want to be as upbeat with the last employer you speak with, as you are with the first one. 

How to approach employers at a job fair

It’s normal to feel nervous about approaching potential employers to promote yourself and your qualifications for a job. Keep in mind, the employers at a job fair are there to meet candidates, just like you’re there to meet them. They want you to introduce yourself, share your top qualities, and ask questions to learn why you’d want to work at their company. That said, preparing for a job fair can help quell your nerves and increase your self-confidence for the event. Here are some tips on how to best approach employers at a job fair: 

Introduce yourself

Practicing your introduction can help ensure you speak professionally with every employer you meet and share the most relevant details about yourself. Your elevator pitch should ideally be 30 to 60 seconds long, and should include your name, what you studied, the type of work you’re interested in, and your key skills.

Ask about the positions they’re hiring for

If you’ve done your research beforehand, you should know if the employers you plan to visit have positions open. However, if you find no information on the types of jobs they’re hiring for on the website or at the job fair booth, ask what positions are currently open. If they don’t have relevant positions available, it’s okay to ask if they may have opportunities in your field later in the year.

Professionally answer interview-style questions

One of the major benefits to attending a job fair is the potential to complete the screening interview on the spot (and avoid the ATS). That means you should prepare responses in advance to potential interview questions, such as ‘tell me a bit about yourself,’ ‘why do you want to work here?’ and ‘What are your career goals?’

Ask insightful questions

Just as you would prepare to ask questions at the close of an interview, you can impress an employer at a job fair by asking questions that indicate your interest in the company and job. Before attending the job fair, research each company’s mission, values, and products offered, as well as review industry trends to come up with a few insightful questions to ask each employer you plan to visit.

Leave a copy of your resume

After introducing yourself and determining that the employer is hiring for a job that interests you, ask if you can leave your resume. Even if you don’t get to speak with every employer on your shortlist, leaving a copy of your resume is still a good idea. After your chat with the employer, be sure to ask how you can follow up with them (and remember to write it down). 

Connect on LinkedIn

For every recruiter you speak to, make sure you ask for the person’s name and contact information, and whether you can connect with them on LinkedIn. 

How to follow up with employers after a job fair

The successful outcome of a job fair can continue long after the event has ended. The key to getting the most benefit from your efforts that day is to follow up with employers you meet—and even those that you never had a chance to speak with. Following up with employers you talked to (and maybe even interviewed with) shows you’re interested in the company, are courteous, and professional. It also helps to build your network at the start of your career. 

You may not have had the opportunity to personally speak with all the employers you’d hoped. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance to connect with them. In fact, most employers will appreciate a note from job fair attendees expressing an interest in their company and your regret that you couldn’t speak with them in person. Here are some tips on how to follow up with employers after a job fair:

Obtain contact information from employers: It’s hard to follow up if you walk away from an employer booth without any contact information. Be sure to ask for a business card or request an email address to follow up. This is particularly important for those you interview with, but is also good practice for every recruiter or employer you meet or visit at a job fair. 

Ask about next steps: It’s best to not assume that every employer you meet wants you to follow up via email or a phone call. There’s nothing wrong with specifically asking the best way to connect, and even when to follow up—especially if you’ve had an interview or discussed a particular role for which you’d be an ideal fit. You may be asked to reach out to a person not at the job fair (such as an HR associate). Make a note of this information for each employer, either on your phone or in a notebook to refer to later.

Send a thank you email: Always send a thank you email within 24 hours of your meeting with a potential employer. Many employers expect this after an interview, and those who take this extra step after a job fair will set themselves apart from other attendees. This can be done in addition to specific instructions from the employer on how to follow up, but use your best judgment. 

Reiterate your interest in the role: In your follow up note (or thank you email) reiterate that you’re interested in working for the company. Mention a particular role if it was discussed at the job fair, and include one to two key takeaways from your interview or discussion, such as the qualifications for the role, the company’s values, or company culture. Be sure to address how these takeaways relate to your desire to work there and how you’re an ideal fit for the company.

Attach a copy of your resume and cover letter: Employers often meet hundreds of candidates over the course of a career fair. It can be hard to remember each person, and your resume can get overlooked if it’s among a stack of other similar ones. Make it easier for the employer to review your qualifications by attaching your resume and cover letter to your follow up email. This gives you the added opportunity to customize them based on the information you learned at the job fair.

Be Prepped to enter the job market

At Prepped, our objective is to help you land your dream job. Our tools will help you build an ATS-friendly resume and improve your interview skills, so you are well prepared to start your career when you graduate. Sign up for Prepped to get access to tools and resources that’ll help you navigate your job search with ease and confidence.