Job Fairs: 4 Tips Counselors Should Share With New Graduates


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Josie Chiao, a second-year Computer Science/East Asian double major at UVA, had a daunting first experience at one of her school’s job fairs. She was overwhelmed at all the activity when she walked in 30 minutes after the start time.

“There was already so much going on,” she said. “Some students were changing into dress shoes, some already had their arms deep in swag, others were diligently taking notes and researching employers.”

As Chiao tried to get her bearings together, she was approached by a recruiter. Even though she practiced her pitch, she only got through 60 percent of what she rehearsed. Fortunately, the conversation went well enough and she was able to make a good connection.

Chiao’s story is just one example of what eager new job seekers might experience as graduation season comes into full swing. Soon-to-be graduates are already in full job-search mode and job fairs are a great way to get their foot in the door of promising companies.

In fact, the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) survey published in 2015 stated employers attend around 31 career fairs a year.

It’s imperative for career counselors to give grads proper instructions so they can gain successful networking experience through these fairs. Here are the four things you need to tell your graduates before they set out for the job fair:

1. Get to job fairs early.

As the phrase goes, “the early bird gets the worm.” The earlier the graduates arrive to a career fair, the more refreshed they and the people they meet will be. Inform graduates to get to job fairs as early as possible if they want to make the most lasting impression.

The average career fair can last anywhere from a few hours to a whole working day. A recruiter who has spent three to four hours actively meeting new people, hearing new pitches, and shaking countless hands will likely be exhausted toward the end.

There’s nothing more anxiety inducing than watching the recruiter’s gaze fall on the growing line of potential candidates behind you as you raise your pitch. Worse yet, nerves can rattle if you’re watching the recruiter’s enthusiasm wane as you work your way up that line. Encourage your job seekers to make their job fair rounds when confidence and attention are at its peak.  

2. Have a strategy in place.

The name of the game for job fairs is speed and efficiency. Graduates need to plan ahead in order to maximize the time they have with recruiters. Counselors should instruct job seekers to have 30, 60, and 90-second pitches ready, specifically tailored to the companies they’re interested in working for.

Most job fairs will post a list of companies and a map of the booths those companies can be found in advance. The job fair’s itinerary should also have a list of the open positions. Job seekers will want to make sure their skills and experiences fit the exact jobs being offered so no time is wasted.

Have your job seekers set a specific goal. For example, they could target a set number of businesses and contacts they will meet with. Additionally, they can have a set number of business cards they will pick up to reach out to later — for those companies that don’t currently have their best fit positions, but are of interest. This will ensure they make the most of the event.

3. Look before you leap.

It’s an important exercise for job seekers to do all of the preparation they’d do for a formal interview. This includes knowing everything they can about the actual jobs that are available and how they fit those roles and the company.

Once your job seekers have a list of the exact companies they want to meet with, they should research the job details as well as gain some insight into who will be representing the company. It’s also important to be familiar with the company’s mission, vision, values, and even the culture.

Instruct job seekers to use all of the resources available. They should compare information from various sources like the company website, their social media pages, and even look to see what their employees are saying on LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

The job fair is not just a meet-and-greet, it’s an advanced opportunity to spring into a new career. Your graduates should understand the importance of knowing what they know…and what they want to learn from the job fair.

4.Prepare for the possibility of rejection.

Job fairs can be exciting for graduates. But that enthusiasm can be quickly snuffed if they come away feeling discouraged because they didn’t land an interview or job offer.

Graduates should be prepared for the reality that looking for a job is marathon. Advise your job seekers of how valuable job fairs are for networking, even if they don’t produce a job offer.

Additionally, teach grads the best practices for reaching out after an unsuccessful attempt at the career fair. Guide them through the appropriate ways to connect with recruiters on LinkedIn and how to properly engage with the company through their Facebook page.

Job seekers can also email once every 30-45 days as a method of staying on the company radar. Advise graduates to share interesting, industry-related articles with their contact to keep the conversation professional and less self-serving. It’s a great way for graduates to show their value and how they’re keeping up with industry trends.

What tips do you share with your graduates to better prepare them for career fairs? Let us know!

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.