Dr. Joseph Barber, Senior Associate Director
If you want to make the most of your career fair experience, then try to achieve as many of the following steps as possible:
1. Find the dates for our upcoming fairs on Handshake – they are all listed right here: https://app.joinhandshake.com/career_fairs
2. Click on each of the fairs and gently browse the various employers who have registered, or do a more targeted search using filters such as job types, school year, major, and industry.
3. Take some time to think about some of your career fair goals. Are you exploring, networking, looking for information, checking in with employers you have already interacted with, or applying? And yes, you might well have different goals in mind for different employers.
4. Create a list of employers at each fair that you want to connect with. It doesn’t have to be a long list. You may only want to speak to a few, and that is perfectly fine, as it can still be an incredibly valuable use of your time.
5. Now that you have a preliminary list, you will want to prioritize it. You can sort the employers into different industries if you are exploring multiple career paths, and you can identify the employers that you are most interested in, those you are a little less interested in based on what you know, those you want to learn more about, and maybe have a few that you are just somewhat curious about.
6. Here is a really important step – do research on all of the employers you have listed. Look at their website to know what they do and how they do it. Look at the jobs that they have posted on Handshake. Look at the jobs they have posted beyond Handshake (LinkedIn the “careers” page on their website are good places to start). Create a list of smart questions you hope to ask (smart means not questions that can be answered through easy online research).
7. Since you cannot just walk up to a table at a career fair, ask a bunch of questions, and then run off without saying anything, you need to work on the narrative you are going to use when introducing yourself to employers. Make a list of information you want the employer to know about you. Again, this might be different for different employers. Put it all together into a well-structured narrative. Practice your introduction aloud, and do it several times until it sounds and feels natural.
8. Think about what you want to wear. You don’t have to be in a suit, but you still should look professional. Think about which companies are at the top of your prioritized list, and try to dress in a way that their representatives will be dressed at the career fair. For example, representatives from law firms that come to campus looking for PhDs to be patent law specialists typically dress in suits. If you turn up in jeans and a t-shirt, you will create an obvious, visual disconnect.
9. Have a good resume to share. This will usually be a document used as a shared reference for your discussion, rather than the document that is used for an actual application, but it should be good enough to do both. Get your materials reviewed before you go to the fair.
10. When you arrive at the fair, choose one of the employers that is lower down your list of priority organizations to ease yourself into the process – this will help you to practice your introduction one last time, and to get a sense of the timing of the interactions that you will be having with employers at the event. Since some fairs can be busy, the next employer you meet with should be one of your priority organizations.
11. Don’t start by handing someone your resume – start with a strong handshake and good eye contact. All employers have name tags on, and you can even start with a strong “Hello Julie, thanks for being here today…”. Did I mention that your handshake should be strong and confident…, and dry! Find out more here: https://ulife.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/blog/2018/04/04/handshaking-a-guide-to-making-the-right-impression/
12. Introduce yourself, ask some smart questions, share your resume, ask for a business card, and offer to follow-up with an electronic version of your materials. Thank them again, shake their hands, and move on with a smile!
13. Within 24 hours, and if you have their email address from their business cards, send a thank you email thanking them again, telling them why you found your conversation together helpful, and sharing anything that you said you would share. You might learn something about an internship or a job from your discussion at the career fair that makes you want to change something in the general resume you took with you to the event in order to better highlight your fit for a particular position.
14. Make sure you apply for specific jobs you talked about at the fair through Handshake, and some companies will need you to apply through their websites too.
15. Celebrate your successes. Think about what went well from the fair, and plan to improve on what didn’t go so well when it comes to the next career fair you go to. There are quite a few of them each semester. An appointment with a career advisor can help with this.
Good luck with your networking and information gathering, if these are your primary goals for your career fair experience, and make the most of your conversations to update your application materials if you are actively applying for positions.