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A career coach’s best tips for making the most of a job fair

Young college man hands his resume to potential employer at college job fair. Other people are interviewing in the background.
Sdi Productions | E+ | Getty Images

Many college students thrived at virtual career fairs during the pandemic. But with in-person events starting to resume, young professionals may start to feel increased anxiety about standing out at competitive job fairs. 

Having a game plan can help you ease some of the pressure and make a good impression on employers, who are currently going to extreme lengths to recruit top talent.

According to Emily Liou, a career happiness coach and former recruiter, the keys to making the most out of a career fair are preparation, knowing your 'why', and following up.

Do your research

According to Liou, coming into the career fair with a "game plan" will help ease some of the anxiety, something she also experienced as a student.

"When I was graduating from college, and I went to a career fair, I didn't do any research in advance. And then you just see all of these different booths and people everywhere. And it can get overwhelming in that way."

Liou says that looking up the organizations beforehand can help you navigate the fair, and know more background information about their mission.

"Do some research on the different company websites and answer the questions: What kind of openings do they have? What kind of product or service do they offer? What is their company culture like?"

Liou also says candidates should have a "quality over quantity" mindset when tackling a career fair. Focusing on three to five booths to research and visit will be more beneficial than passing out your resume to as many recruiters as possible.

Find out your why

We've all been asked 'why do you want to work here?' during a job interview. According to Liou, having a unique and well-informed answer ready will help you stand out.

"Figure out why this company, out of all of these other companies at this fair, is speaking to you. I think that's the best way to make an impression upon the recruiter that is at the fair," Liou says. "Oftentimes, the recruiters there are going to be talking to countless people throughout the day. Chances are, they're not going to remember you, but if you can at least strike up a conversation by connecting with them first on their product, their service, their mission, or their culture, you will stand out."

Liou advises that candidates shouldn't "dominate or monopolize" a recruiter's time trying to answer this question, saying "it's not about getting everything out there, but really just connecting human to human, and then letting them know, this is what your organization does, this is my background and this is what I would love to do."

Don't fear the follow-up

It's important to make yourself memorable by following up with recruiters via email shortly after the fair.

Liou says many young professionals often forget this key step in the career fair process and end up being overlooked in favor of candidates who took the initiative.

"I will literally tell like, 20 students, follow up with me after this meeting, send me an email, and only one will actually follow up. And that's the person who's top of mind. So that's what I would recommend… to not be afraid of the follow-up."

In the follow-up email, Liou advises candidates to reattach their resume or LinkedIn profile, give context on when or where they met the recruiter, and reiterate how they would be an asset to the organization.

"A lot of job seekers make the mistake of just saying, I'm looking for a job, do you have anything that's a fit? It shouldn't be the recruiter's job to try to understand your background and where you'd fit in. It's really about you doing the legwork and telling them this is who I am, this is what I want to help with and this is how I can do it."

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