6 Winning Strategies for Career Fairs

Career fairs can be awkward.

You try to look and act your best. You want to be assertive, but not needy. Worst of all you are supposed to “be yourself” and “act natural” in an environment that is just not natural at all. 

Here are some ways that you can stay true to yourself but still win at a career fair. 

 

  1. Before the event, identify the 3-5 companies that are the best potential fit. Get a list of who is going to be at the career fair. Do some research on them to see if you are a good fit for them, and if they are a good fit for you. This means they hire for positions that you are interested in pursuing and for which you meet the qualifications. Also, they have potential for positions that meet your criteria for location, compensation, career track, etc. You don’t want to just wander around the career fair, casually stopping in as if they are the sample stations at Costco. Although, it’s ok to do this AFTER you have pursued your top 3-5 prospects.
  2. Make a personal connection. Do you know someone who works for one of your top choices? Contact them before the career fair to ask about their experiences and advice. Better yet, if you can find out who is going to be at the career fair for the company, connect with them on LinkedIn. Include in your LinkedIn connection request that you are looking forward to meeting them at the career fair. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is up to standard first. Get our free LinkedIn guide here: www.AgGrad.com/LinkedIn. 
  3. Arrive early. One of the most frustrating things at a career fair is when you feel like you need to force your way through a crowd and catch their attention like you’re at a popular college bar on a Friday night. This is a very awkward way to make a first impression. To avoid this, arrive early and visit your top 3-5 companies before the crowds hit. By following steps #1 & #2, you have an advantage here. 
  4. Positive First Impressions. Dress professionally. At MINIMUM, this means a step above jeans and a step above polo shirts. If you notice yourself being slightly over-dressed compared to the company representatives, then you are dressed exactly as you should be. Approach them with a smile and initiate the handshake. Look them in the eye. Tell them you came specifically to meet them because you had looked into their company and are very intrigued about them. Ask them questions about what it’s like to work there, what types of roles they are looking to fill, and what they are looking for in a candidate. You want to show sincere interest – not self-promotion. Ask them if you can leave your resume. Get their business card. 
  5. Your mission: next steps. You will not be offered a job at a career fair. This is just the first step in a lengthy process of you and the company getting to know each other. So, keep in mind that your mission is to find out what are the NEXT steps in the process. If you followed step #4,  you have left your resume and collected their business card. Then you need to ask the question, “what are the next steps I should take to be considered for a job with your company?” Knowing and remembering the answer to this question will be critical. 
  6. *MOST IMPORTANT*- Follow Up. If you don’t do this step, you have likely wasted your time. The industry people you meet at a career fair are busy. They probably will speak to 100 students that day. They will likely be going on to other career fairs to do the same thing. They have their own job responsibilities to catch up on after the event. YOU have to be the one to take the initiative to keep in consideration. Be prepared to follow up as many as three times without a response. That said, you still don’t want to be annoying. Where’s the line? That’s not always clear. See below for some general advice on following up. 

 

Following Up

Wait for two days, then send an email. The timing allows them to theoretically debrief from the event and get back into their normal work schedule. This email should specifically state something you learned from them at the career fair that further sparked your interest in the position. Also, re-state your understanding of next steps in the process and tell them what you have done so far. Thank them for their time and ask if there is anything else you can do to remain in consideration for the position. 

If you haven’t heard back from them after about a week, find them on LinkedIn and/or Twitter. Send them a brief message saying how great it was to meet them the previous week, and your enthusiasm for the work they are doing. No need to mention the email. They know you emailed them. You are just wanting to show your continued interest at this point. 

If another week goes by and you’re not getting a response, give them a call. Tell them you just wanted to see if the position is still open and if they had a timeline for filling the position. Make sure that they have your email and have your resume. Ask if there is anything else you can do to remain in consideration. 

At this point, if you are not getting any response, I would try another angle. Perhaps reaching out to other connections who work at the company to ask if there is anything else  you can do to position yourself as a viable candidate. Don’t know anyone? Try finding alumni from your university that work there by using LinkedIn. 

 

Why The Radio Silence?

There are several reasons why they may not be making progress with your candidacy. Perhaps they are still trying to collect a pool of qualified applicants, maybe there is some internal discussions about how many people they really need to hire, maybe there is some budget or organizational restructuring going on and they want to get through that before they move forward in the hiring process.

The fact is, you don’t always know what’s going on within the company, so it’s best to remain positive and keep doing what you can do to foster the long term relationship. 

Career fairs are great ways to make first contact. Make sure that you never give up on the relationship. Even if you don’t end up working there initially.

The best thing  you can do in your industry is to build positive relationships. Always do your part to make sure that everyone’s interaction with you is one that builds your reputation as someone who is a joy to work with no matter what the circumstances. 

Tim Hammerich
tim@aggrad.com

Tim is a strategic communications consultant, founder of AgGrad, and the host of the "Future of Agriculture" podcast. Originally from California, he is now based out of Boise, Idaho.