If you’re wondering whether career fairs are worth it, then read on.
I’m going to share what to expect at a career/job fair, the most important benefits of going to a career/job fair, and whether it’s worth it to attend as a job seeker.
I’ll also share a few key preparation steps you should know before attending any job fair, so make sure you read until the end.
Let’s get started…
Career fairs are organized events that allow job seekers (typically students) to meet with representatives from multiple companies and receive information about internship and job opportunities. Employers each typically have a table or booth at the career fair and spend the day meeting with job seekers to discuss their company’s job openings.
Career fairs are popular with job candidates because they don’t cost any money, so you may have to wait in line to speak to some employers.
Career fairs, also referred to as job fairs, may be located on a college campus or at a different venue.
Specific industries or even individual organizations may hold job fairs at times when they need to do a lot of hiring. For example, when a hotel chain is opening a new hotel in a city, they may hold a one-day hiring fair to quickly hire their start-up staff.
Don’t think of career fairs as just a way to get immediate opportunities from employers, though. That’s one big benefit of attending…
But you should also think about building a long-term relationship with each company that you find interesting.
Employers prefer to hire candidates they know/trust, so students and early-stage professionals can get ahead later in their careers by starting to build relationships with key people at top companies before they need that relationship.
So even if a company isn’t recruiting for your exact talents or level at the moment, consider exchanging contact info with a recruiter to stay in touch.
As long as their overall industry and company interest you, then it’s worth keeping in touch.
Save their info and reconnect a few times per year.
Also, think about whether there’s anyone in your network who you could refer to them, for the positions they are currently recruiting for.
Help them, and they’ll help you. That’s networking, in a nutshell.
To make an initial connection, you can ask a recruiter or other company representative for a business card, or better yet, ask company representatives if you can connect with them on LinkedIn.
By following this process and building relationships with employers, you’ll be able to stay informed about when various companies are hiring, and for which positions.
You’ll rise faster in your career AND avoid having to apply for countless jobs online every time you want to make a change.
Virtual career fairs are similar to in-person career fairs, with the difference being that you’ll log in to an online portal instead of visiting a physical location. Within the online career fair portal, you can participate in various rooms which will allow you to meet with various employers to network and find out what career opportunities they’re offering.
A virtual career job fair format may make it harder for you to build rapport and stand out as a job seeker since they’re not face-to-face with employers.
Yet this virtual format can also be an advantage if you’re introverted, not great at in-person networking, or living far away from potential job opportunities and are open to relocating.
There’s another major financial advantage to virtual events, too. Virtual job fairs are an incredible opportunity because they cost you little time and almost no money and can be attended from home.
You don’t have to commute to the virtual career fair or pay for parking, transportation, or a hotel if the fair is in a different city, and you don’t even need to wear full business attire (for example, nobody will be able to see your shoes at a virtual job fair).
For these reasons, virtual career fairs are an excellent option for any students or new job seekers, especially those short on time and money.
Career fairs are worth it for job seekers, whether virtual or in-person. Especially if you’re an entry-level candidate or college student, it’s worth attending at least one career fair to see what opportunities exist and practice talking to employers.
Career fairs are also worth it because they typically cost nothing to attend and can lead to job interviews immediately. Just as importantly, they can kick off long-term relationships with hiring managers and recruiters and arm you with information about what employers look for so that you can ace your upcoming interviews.
By asking good questions at a career fair, you can uncover what types of skills employers are looking for, what jobs they have available, and even what those jobs typically pay.
That said, a career fair alone may not be enough to get you hired and may not get you access to enough job openings.
In addition to attending career fairs/job fairs, you should be applying directly to jobs/companies that interest you, cold-messaging hiring managers on LinkedIn, emailing recruiters, and talking to your network to uncover job leads and more companies who are hiring.
College career fairs/job fairs are typically free. These events don’t charge candidates to attend, whether virtual or in-person. The fact that career fairs are free is one of the top reasons that I recommend them and feel they’re worth it.
Be wary of any job fair charging money to job seekers. The largest and most reputable job fairs tend to be free for the candidate.
Do not pay for access to job opportunities. Entrance fees are a surefire sign of a scam and a way that shady companies prey on entry-level candidates.
You should also never pay recruiters for help in general. The company pays for the recruiting services (usually as a “contingency fee” after hiring someone who the recruiter referred).
I mentioned above that as a student or job seeker, you’ll gain access to immediate job opportunities at job fairs, plus the potential to network and access opportunities later in your career.
There are more benefits to attending these events, too.
First, you can get feedback on your resume. Bring many copies and don’t just hand your resume to employers for a job opening; ask them what they think, whether they have any questions or concerns, and if there are any changes they’d recommend making based on what their company looks for in a candidate.
If you’re an entry-level job seeker, ask what type of qualifications they look for in students and recent grads. This will give you insight into how companies decide who to hire when you don’t have any formal work experience.
This is valuable info that you can then use to improve your resume. Many companies will be happy to share feedback with candidates, whether you’re attending a virtual career fair or talking in person.
Another benefit to attending events like career fairs and job fairs: You’ll get to hone your elevator pitch.
If someone asks, “What do you do?” are you prepared with a good answer?
Could you explain your background, what you’re looking to do next, and why they should care, in under 30 seconds?
It’s worth having your elevator pitch ironed out. You never know when employers will ask, “What can you tell me about yourself?” in the interview, or when you’ll randomly run into a recruiter or hiring manager from an employer you want to get in touch with.
In all of the above situations, you only have one chance to make a strong first impression and keep their attention.
So this is why I recommend all job candidates, whether students or experienced job seekers, have an elevator speech ironed out and ready to go.
Talking to companies at career fairs will help you get comfortable and confident in delivering this elevator pitch.
Now that you know the benefits of attending a career fair and why you should (probably) go to one or two, let’s talk about how to prepare.
I mentioned this above. Recruiters and companies talk to many candidates at each career fair and you have limited time to grab their attention. Your elevator pitch is how you get the company interested in the initial interaction.
Don’t go into a job fair without a good idea (and some practice runs) for how you’ll introduce yourself or answer, “Tell me about yourself.”
Anytime you’re heading to a career fair, you’ll want to bring multiple copies of your resume to give to employers. Or, if you’re attending a virtual career fair, you’ll need to send your resume to employers digitally.
And once you give a company your resume, that’s what their evaluation of you will be based upon.
So don’t rush your resume. Take your time and tailor it to what employers/recruiters would want for their types of jobs.
Think about what experience you have that best demonstrates you’d be able to step into their job/industry and succeed. That’s exactly what companies are thinking about when reading your resume, yet many candidates don’t take the time to optimize their resumes for what employers want.
I highly recommend reading this article on how to tailor your resume to a job.
The info in that article is relevant for both entry-level and experienced candidates and will almost certainly help you get more interviews.
Next, have a plan for how to wrap up the conversation with each of the employers/recruiters you talk to at the career fair.
You want to close the interaction in a confident, professional way. I suggest asking each company about the next steps in their hiring process and who to follow up with.
Give the recruiters/employers your resume if they have any relevant jobs, but also make sure you have a plan moving forward to stay aware of new opportunities from the company.
Asking to stay in touch whether or not they have an immediate opportunity will show employers that you’re thinking about the “big picture” and you’re genuinely interested in the opportunities their company can offer (and genuinely interested in developing your career).
This is going to impress employers, since many candidates come across as simply being in a rush to find any job they can find, without much thought into the future.
The bottom line is: You can set yourself apart from other job seekers and get more out of job fairs if you plan how to end each conversation with the various companies you talk to.
If attending in-person career fairs, you can ask for business cards, for example. If attending a virtual event, you can ask whether it would be okay to connect with the recruiter or other company representative on LinkedIn.
Career fairs cost you almost no time or money and can lead directly to job opportunities and information that will aid you in your job search.
Attending career fairs also allows you to build long-term relationships with employers to stay aware of future job opportunities as your career progresses.
It’s worth attending job fairs if you’re a student or other candidate near the beginning of your career.
Don’t rely solely on job fairs in your job hunt, though.
I suggest also reaching out directly to hiring managers on LinkedIn, talking to your network to find out about opportunities, and applying to jobs with LinkedIn Easy Apply.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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