Not sure whether to sign up for a career fair? This should convince you! Employers come to career fairs because they genuinely want to meet (and recruit) students. Here, employers from Handshake’s network reveal what they look for at a career fair, and how you can stand out.
Why do employers come to college career fairs?
The recruiters we spoke to agree: they truly enjoy meeting students at career fairs! Melissa Price, Sr. Manager of Talent Acquisition at Union Pacific, says, “I love career fairs. The energy of students and their passion in talking about what they love—I look for that passion at the career fair.”
You don’t have to be an extrovert to succeed at a career fair: “The recruiter’s goal is to make you feel welcome,” says Melissa. And Janel Houston, Lead Recruiting Specialist at Deloitte, says, “I’m an introvert, and never went to career fairs in college! I was too intimidated and didn’t think a recruiter would remember me. But in the end, both the employer and the student get to see beyond a resume, and beyond a website, and connect authentically.”
According to Angelica Sanchez, Sr. Recruiter for Diversity Campus Recruiting at Capital One, creating connections is the main reason employers come to career fairs. She recommends students attend to expand their network and meet people at companies they are interested in: “Creating connections with recruiters will be a great way to learn more about opportunities and programs available at the company. Pro tip: recruiters also know specific deadlines that you may not be able to find on the company’s website.”
The best ways to stand out at a career fair
Our recruiters’ main takeaways: do your research ahead of time, and bring your full self.
Melissa says, “To stand out, be your authentic self. For example, why did you pick mechanical engineering? Were you a ranch hand and wanted to keep working with large machinery? Or do you like to tinker on cars? Those stories lead into a career filled with passion.”
Janel says, “What is memorable to me in my conversations at career fairs is genuineness, preparedness, and curiosity. It’s also a good idea to follow up with a thank you note—but make it personal and unique!”
Angelica reminds students that doing your research and being prepared is key: “From a recruiter’s perspective, when the candidate has done their research on the company, and has direct specific questions about the company’s opportunities, it can make the conversation worth everyone’s time.”
Before you come to the career fair, look up employers and prepare questions so you can use your time well. And if you’re really enthusiastic about an employer, say that directly in your elevator pitch! Everyone likes feeling special, and your passion will be memorable.
On the flip side, don’t stand out in the wrong way. For Angelica, it makes a terrible impression when students don’t pay attention to the conversation—or worse, are only looking to grab swag from the fair table!
Don't forget: you’re interviewing the employer too!
Gaby Flores-Sanchez, a recruiter at Warner Bros. Discovery, says: “If you don’t show who you really are to the people you’re meeting at a career fair, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Then your imposter syndrome kicks in, you have to code-switch, and that’s not what you want on a daily basis, whether it’s an internship role or full time job. This is your chance to see how you feel when you talk to the people that work at that company.”
How should you follow up after a career fair?
Take notes on who you talked to, and send them a message after the career fair to say thank you and to connect. Angelica also recommends registering for a company’s talent network or email list, and seeing if the employer will be hosting additional campus events.