Is a career fair a step in the right direction, or is it wasting valuable time? The answer depends on you.
Career fairs are enticing for a variety of reasons. They are easy to attend (they are often free and happen year-round), you’d have no trouble finding them anywhere, and most vitally, they’re hopeful prospects. After all, who could say “no” to having professional opportunities vying for your attention, instead of the other way around? To anyone looking for open positions, the idea of meeting dozens of employers hiring across your industry could seem like just the solution you need. But how can you be sure?
Career fairs can be great resources to help you connect with employers. Having an understanding of your own expectations can help you figure out if attending a career fair is worth it. These kinds of events can be like snowflakes: there can be many at once, yet no two are the same.
Career fairs are traditionally held on university campuses, in hotel convention centers, online, or at other professional buildings that can fit many attendees. They might have a group session and a time to meet with different employers. Upcoming events for virtual career fairs can also be found online with a quick search.
Websites for event organizing, such as Eventbrite, can often feature sections specifically for business and career events. Post-pandemic, however, virtual career fairs are becoming the new standard. In-person events are still happening, but a virtual career fair is easier to attend since they cut out both travel time and the possibility of an awkward in-person chat.
Keep in mind that not all virtual fairs offer the same experience. Some virtual career fairs might only be a list of online job applications, which may be a massive letdown. When you register, be wary of any virtual career fairs that don’t say much about themselves. If the event description is just a series of online applications without a clear info session, don’t expect an entire virtual career fair, where you’d be speaking directly with recruiters.
For university students or recent alums, your college’s career center is an excellent place to start looking for upcoming events and programs. They will likely have plenty of resources to help you, such as links to career fairs, internship opportunities, and other upcoming events to look forward to at your school.
Job fairs and virtual career fairs are often free, but they still cost a valuable resource that isn’t worth wasting: your time. You may take a chance at a career fair, but will the potential benefits be worth your time? Generally, the answer is “yes.”
A job fair also provides other opportunities too. You get the chance to network with different employers, learn about employers you might not have heard of, and practice professional behavior. All of these can be valuable experiences that will pay off in the long term, but you’ll need to prepare if you want to reap the most success out of any fairs you attend.
The best way to make sure that a career fair will be useful is to conduct research ahead of time. No two career fairs are identical, so you’ll want to know what you’ll be getting into.
Some career fairs only feature specific jobs or a particular field. They might be fairs for engineering, marketing, or even government jobs within a state or city. Other career fairs may be geared toward university students and alumni, veterans, or people seeking to work abroad.
Career fairs might also feature guest speakers, and online events can offer programs such as resume workshops and webinars. These are the first signs of whether it’s worth it for you. If you can tell that the event has nothing to do with your desired career path, then attending is a hard “no.”
Give yourself a head start. Once you find a fair that fits your goals, look into which companies are attending. You should be able to find out on the organization’s website that is operating the fair, or on the event listing itself. Familiarize yourself with the employers that will be there. Get to know what they do, how long they have been around, and the culture of their organization.
Websites like LinkedIn and other social media platforms are perfect for this! It could even be helpful to find open position listings since they provide insight into working there. Whether it’s in-person or virtual, if there’s even one employer you can see yourself working with, the event is worth attending.
Getting the most out of a career fair is all about knowing your own expectations. Fairs can be useful for job seekers, but you need to know what you’re seeking. They are a tool for you to use, not rely on.
Are you starting as a novice in your field, or are you looking for a career pivot? Do you prefer a virtual environment over an office setting? Make sure you know what you’re looking for, and you’ll know when you find it.
Make sure your career aspirations are clear. If you go to a fair with the idea that they’ll tell you which job is best for you, you’ll end up limiting your options/opportunities instead of expanding them. One way to figure out your career goals is to ask yourself questions that are often asked in job interviews. Then, you can turn those questions around to figure out a job that would be good for you/the type of job that you would thrive in.
For example, where would you like to be in five years? Do you work best on-site or in a virtual setting? Are you more creative or technical-minded? Do you want to have to face people or work on your own? Before you attend a job fair looking for a potential career, think about which career is the right one for you.
If you’re a college student or recent graduate, try thinking about jobs within your field of education. University career centers often hold both in-person and virtual career fairs to help students and alumni find work related to their majors. Once you’ve done your research and have your sights set on a fair, then you’re ready to attend. But what do you do once you’re there?
A career fair is not a job interview, but you should still treat it professionally. Whether it’s an in-person event or a remote one, you should dress in business-casual attire(at least on your top half) since there’s no need to go all-out with formality, but you should still maintain a professional presence.
Be prepared! In some ways, a virtual career fair experience is similar to an in-person career expo, so dress and act professionally. Have your camera on, and make sure you have a clean background, and can hear and record yourself as best as possible before the session starts. It might save you from some embarrassment during the event.
Even though it isn’t a job interview, be ready for questions and communication similar to one. However, you can be more laid-back and conversational too. Try to strike a balance between being friendly and being professional. Employers want candidates who can get their work done and be amicable team members, so a career fair could be the perfect place to establish yourself as that!
At a virtual career fair, sometimes it’s easy to get lost during group sessions. So remember to take notes, either on paper or on a mobile device, of all the jobs that stand out. Remember not to look disinterested if you’re taking notes on your phone. It’s important to keep the contact information of any employers that you could see yourself working with, and to follow up with them after the event (but we’ll get to that later).
The rule to remember about every aspect of a career fair event is to get the information you need! Understand the kinds of work you’ll be doing, your hours, and the overall workplace experience. This is true of both in-person fairs and virtual fairs. Your most valuable resource is your time, and it is best not to spend on dead-end jobs and empty opportunities..
The types of questions you ask at a career fair should be about what’s important to you and your own needs. At the same time, you want to convey to the job reps that you are worth the time to give a complete answer to, and that you would make a great hire. Let the job rep know that you’re a good candidate, then they might go into even more depth about the position, giving you a whole picture of what working there will be like.
For example, let’s say that having a career with enough paid time off is important to you. When talking to a representative at a career fair, start the chat by talking about their hours, or scheduling, then naturally progress toward the topic of paid time off. Convey interest, and the representative will reciprocate with the information that you’re looking for.
As another example, if you want to be part of a workplace that lets you work on your own schedule, then one idea would be to begin by highlighting your strongest skills, or perhaps how much you accomplished during the Covid-19 pandemic. Then, shift the conversation by asking about whether that particular position accommodates working remotely. Be confident in explaining your own skills and qualifications.
Again, this isn’t an interview, so you don’t need to wait for the recruiter to lead you into anything. Employers value people who can initiate things, which brings us to the next point.
When you talk with a representative at a career fair about your own experience, make sure that what you say presents yourself as proactive, hard-working, and fast to pick up new skills. You’re the main character of your professional life, so make that clear: talk about how you have been able to land certain positions, don’t make it sound like you found them through luck. Bring up the things that make you unique, since those will also give the recruiters a great idea of your value to their team. Accentuate your own education and qualifications, and go into each meeting confidently.
When you’re at a virtual career fair, participation matters, so you need to be active and participate. Talk in chat when you can’t speak and during group sessions. Also, don’t let the fact that you’re in a virtual fair stop you from leaving an impression. Even at a virtual career fair, there are many ways to stand out from other applicants.
Preparing your own questions in advance to discuss with a job representative is a great way to stand out. This is especially true if you’re looking for a specific employer and want to leave a lasting impression at the event. Since you’ve done all that research, let the recruiters know it! Start by asking specific questions using information that you found in your research. Ask about the workplace, mentioning details from LinkedIn or from social media that you gathered before the event. Don’t let a recruiter get the impression that they aren’t your first choice, even if they really aren’t. Even if you don’t have anything prepared, simply listening attentively to the recruiter and asking them questions afterward will convey that you’re serious about working there.
If you’re at an in-person career fair, provide the recruiter a copy of your resume. Having copies of it to give people will help secure the chances of moving forward to an interview in the future. Tell the recruiters how they can reach you, and take down information on how you can contact them. Once you do, you’ve reached the most vital part of the whole process:
The essence of a career fair isn’t necessarily the event itself; it’s what happens afterward. You’ll need to follow up with the recruiters or job representatives within 24 hours of the event.
If you’re still interested in any position that you saw at the career fair, don’t wait for the representative to contact you. Instead, let them know you’re serious by taking the initiative to reach out. Do so via email or another method of communication you established at the event. Mention that you’re interested and that you want to follow up with them. As with the event itself, an excellent way to stand out from other candidates and attendees is to include some questions about the position. Once the recruiter responds, they will be able to give you an in-depth reply since you’ve left an open space in the conversation for them. They will have more to say to you if you lead with a question. Plus, it will help convey that you’re serious about working there. Then maybe you can connect even more, and advance to an interview!
This is the most important step of any career fair experience. Sending a follow-up is an unwritten expectation, for both virtual events and traditional career fairs. Recruiters are still people. So sending them a reminder in the form of a professional follow-up message will help you stand out and cement yourself in their memory. After all, wouldn’t you be more likely to engage with someone who takes the time and effort to connect with you?
After the event and your follow-up, look back at all of your expectations and career goals. Use that to evaluate the results of the career fair. Decide if the employers you saw lined up with your expectations, or if any of them exceeded them or fell short. Ask yourself if you found anything you didn’t expect, or whether or not going to another job fair is necessary. It’s important to reflect on your own expectations like this because it will provide you with a better idea of what exactly you got out of the event. The additional time to decide will let all the flash and spectacle of the event fade in your mind, and leave you with the answer you’ve been looking for.
The reason this step should come after giving your follow-up responses is that you never know when they could lead to a future opportunity. Sending follow-ups to job representatives is an important habit to develop. You never know what the future holds, and maintaining professional communication is a great way to connect with employers.
Research the opportunities that stood out to you from the career fair. Look online to find sources or posts from other people who worked there. It will be worth the effort to get a complete picture of what working somewhere will be like, since it might save you from getting caught in another dead-end job.
What you see at a career fair is still a curated image of the career, so look into reviews of that company, or in any news stories or articles for a more candid review. Compare what the official website says with reviews from current and former employees. Then, consider that information with your own desires, expectations, and career goals. Once you do, then you’ll have an answer on whether you’ve found a fitting job!
Finding success at both virtual fairs and in-person events depends on the research that you do before and after. By looking into the jobs you’ll see there, you’ll get a better understanding of whether those careers are right for you. There is no universal answer to the question, “Is a career fair worth it,” because career fairs can be different for everyone who attends. By doing research and maintaining an approachable demeanor, you can make the best out of any career fair that you attend. The answer depends on you!
For more information on how to succeed on your career journey, check out our other blogs here!
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I am a fiction writer and Comedy Content-Writer living in New York. I have been a Comedy Content Writer with Super Purposes since January 2023. Outside of Super Purposes, I am pursuing a degree in Creative Writing.