7 Essential Career Fair Tips for College Students

Career fairs are so much more than an opportunity to shake a few hands and bring home some free pens—it is the first step towards a promising career after graduating. To help you make the most of the events coming to your campus, we sat down with Skylight’s Associate Managing Partner Charles Cooper to get his insight on how to make the most of the career fair season.

#1: Dig Deep to Uncover Your Passion

Before you print off a single resume, you need to decide what career will serve your passion. This might sound like a total “DUH” but the last thing a recruiter wants to hear after asking what you are looking for in a role is “I need a job.”

“Regardless of what line of work you are going into, you will be faced with challenges that will test your perseverance” said Cooper. “Passion is the light at the end of the tunnel, giving you the courage to make tough choices and see the bigger picture. Once you have identified that passion, you will be able to find the right company that aligns with your vision.”

#2: Preparation Now = Interviews Later

Everyone says that they have a tremendous work ethic, but recruiters at career fairs are looking for those who are demonstrating their work ethic—this is done through proper preparation. “Having knowledge of the company and questions ready before your approach tells me that you have done your homework” said Cooper. “You do not want to be the student that approaches every company and says, ‘So what do you guys do?’”

Before heading over to any career fair, get the list of participating companies (the earlier, the better!) This will allow you to do your research, identify the right companies for you, and ace your first impression.

#3: Want to Stand Out? Present Your WHY

Recruiters at job fairs may talk to 300 people in a single afternoon—your goal should be to find a way to stand out from the crowd. One of the most effective ways to do this is to perfect your answer to one seemingly simple question: why? Why do you want to work with this company? Why are you the right candidate for the job?

“People don’t always remember names, but what they do remember is how you made them feel” said Cooper. “Having a well-crafted answer to ‘why’ is the best way to get a star on your resume from a recruiter—and that sends you to the top of the pile.”

Not sure what your “why” is yet? Cooper recommends picking up a copy of “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. “It is a tremendous book that will point you in the right direction.”

#4: Avoid Career Fair Don’ts

Any one of the below career fair myths can immediately sour a recruiter’s impression of you and send your resume into the “no” pile.

Don’t come in bragging about your GPA—having intelligence is the first step, but what is more important is what is driving you to this role.

Don’t add dozens of clubs and organizations to your resume— “If you have 87 clubs on your resume, I know you are padding your stats. If you are a part of two clubs and you have leadership roles in both, recruiters see that as passion” said Cooper.

Don’t talk to every single company in the building—this unfocused “pound the pavement” strategy will make you appear unqualified and ingenuine.

#5: Practice your Approach

You will not be able to ace your approach on the first try, so be sure to practice your why statement and questions with your friends. Try a few different approaches until you land on something you like and make sure to get honest feedback. 

“I highly recommend recording yourself during this exercise” said Cooper. “This will help you uncover any vocal tics you may not even realize you had!” Being able to speak with countless um’s, ah’s, or like’s will make you sound uneducated and unprepared. Practice until you have eliminated filler words and recruiters will notice your confidence.

#6: Finally, Dress to Impress!

“If you want to land your dream job, you absolutely need to look the part at the career fair” said Cooper. That means no wrinkles in the shirt, no dirty clothes, dress pants with a belt, and not a hair follicle out of place. “You can tell who rolled out of bed and walked directly to the event, and there is no way a recruiter is giving that person a chance!”

If you follow these six tips at your next career fair, you are already on your way to starting your dream job! A big thanks to Charles Cooper for sharing his insight.

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