Prepare for and succeed at career fairs

Updated in 2023

Career fairs can be extremely helpful to your job search because they are an opportunity for you to meet recruiters face-to-face and show them that you are a human instead of just an application.

Our mentors at Pathrise have gone to a lot of career fairs. So, they have experienced all the difficulties of these events first hand. Recruiters sometimes meet with 500+ people in a day! As much as they try to remember details, it’s hard to stand out. So, we wanted to share some tried & true tips to help make sure that your meeting is memorable. These will help you get the absolute most out of these opportunities.

1. Come prepared

Research the companies you are interested in before the career fair so that you can have knowledgeable conversations with the recruiters. Don’t just say, “I’m interested in your company.” Say, “I’m interested in your company because…”. Tell them how their work relates to what you are doing or studying. This will dramatically change the recruiter’s perspective. Applying online already before you meet them will also really change the dynamic. Suddenly your meeting is about following up on your application, rather than just about an abstract interest.

When researching a company, you want to look at 3 different areas. Their About page will give you valuable information about their mission and company “Why.” You should always tie your responses, especially to a “why this company” question, back to their mission. Look at their product pages and understand what they do and how your past experience or studies relates. Include this when you are talking to the recruiter so they know you can be of value to the team. Read their company values and ensure you fit into their culture. The company’s values are the closest thing they have for a rubric to test if you are a cultural fit for the team. This is extremely important to getting the job.

We’ve created a guide showing you how to research a company to prepare for your interviews, which you can review for more tips.

2. Hand them your resume early

The recruiters are meeting hundreds of similar people at these career fairs, so you need to help them remember you. Be sure to hand them your resume at the beginning of the conversation, because then they can follow along with what you are discussing. Once they have your resume in hand, they will also have the opportunity to make notes directly on it. Later, when they review who they met and who should move forward with additional interviews, it will be extremely helpful for them to see the notes they took on your resume.

3. Master your elevator pitch

Make sure you have your elevator pitch ready for the introduction. It should be 1-2 minutes (likely want to keep it on the shorter side for the career fair as time is limited) and talk about your education, experience, projects, and conclude with a summary of yourself as a candidate and a preview of “why this company.”

When crafting a response to “why this company,” keep this structure in mind: Mission or product first, approach or values second (ex: “Nobody else approaches it like you. You are being more scientific than ever before”). Avoid perks, salary, and everything else.

Template for elevator pitch:

Hi, I’m [name]. I graduated from [school] in [year], with a major in [concentration]. I’ve always been interested in working in [field] so while I was at school, I spent summers as a [type of] intern at [company or companies]. While working at [specific company or position], I learned a lot about [connection to company you are talking to]. With my experience and studies, I know I would be a valuable addition to the team.

Example of elevator pitch:

Hi, I’m Lizzie. I graduated from Northwestern in 2015, with a major in computer science. I’ve always been interested in working as a software engineer so while I was at school, I spent summers as a software engineering intern at Twitter and Facebook. While working at Twitter, I was on the team responsible for ensuring community standards for their users. I learned a lot about how I could use machine learning to create a safe online community. Building a safer Internet is something that is really important to me and it’s exciting to see that Google feels the same way. With my past experience, I know I would be a valuable addition to the team that is working to give their users the protection they need.

4. Get their info and follow up

Always ask the recruiter or representative for their contact information at the end of the conversation, or ask if it is ok to keep in touch over Linkedin. Sometimes they won’t give it to you so don’t push it, but most of them will.

If they do, write a note immediately to remind yourself what you talked about with that specific representative. Just like the recruiters, you will be meeting with a lot of people, so keeping your conversations straight is really important. After the career fair, follow up with a thoughtful thank you email and include some specific information about what you talked about so they remember who you are. Not as many people do this as you might think. One of our advisors, who was a university recruiter at Google, said that she received thank you emails from only about 5% of candidates.

For additional help, check out our guide to learn how to write a follow up email and use our email template.

Career fairs may seem overwhelming, but if you go in with a plan and confidence, you can easily stand out. Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech.

If you want to work with any of our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with career fair prep or with any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.

Apply today.

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