How to Network at a Career Fair

Whether you’re heading to your first career fair in a bid to advance your career or looking to hone your networking skills following a career fair that didn’t meet your expectations, this article will share a few top tips to ensure that your next networking event allows you to make the best first impression with potential employers. 

Even though most recruitment happens online, career fairs can still be helpful for students and graduates looking to take the next step in their careers.

Career fairs can provide invaluable opportunities to graduate job seekers looking to stand out in front of company representatives; there is a reason why the phrase “it isn’t what you know, it is who you know” is such a common adage. If you view career fairs as opportunities to make those vital connections with recruiters and put yourself in the best possible position to make a first impression, you will drastically improve your employability. 

Contrary to popular belief, just showing up isn’t enough to ensure that going out of your way to attend a career fair is enough to make it worth your time; you must also be prepared to purposefully and meaningfully network and do so in a way that you make an everlasting impression.

How to Network at a Career Fair: 5 Top Tips

1. Build a Strong Foundation with the Recruiters

It isn’t unheard of for recruiters to interview and hire candidates on the spot at career fairs. However, this shouldn’t be your primary objective when you attend a career fair. Instead, you should attend a job fair with the aim of networking with the people that will be the first point of contact in a company’s hiring team. They could be a hiring manager, a HR representative, or a recruiter. Whoever it is, typically, they will be responsible for reviewing CVs and arranging interviews. 

When interacting with any company’s hiring team, introduce yourself and establish yourself as a desirable candidate by sharing your educational and employment history; if relevant, let them know which desirable traits you possess. Also, take the time to establish if the company is a right fit for you; at the end of the conversation, always get the contact information for the recruiter, hiring manager or HR rep. 

Following the career fair, if you are serious about obtaining a role with a company you have interacted with, use the contact details you have obtained to send a follow-up email or phone call to confirm that you would like to be considered for the position.

People networking at a career fair

2. Prepare to Make the Best First Impression

Research has proven that it only takes seven seconds to make an impression on someone you meet for the first time. You will never get that opportunity again, which is why you must ensure that the best first impression is made. Don’t be intimidated by this statistic; use it as motivation to prepare for every networking event you attend. 

Even though some career fairs and networking events welcome smart-casual attire, always dress for the job you want; going the extra mile when preparing an outfit will make you stand out from the rest of the crowd that are vying for the same positions as you. Also, ensure that you have enough CVs to hand out to employers; around 20 printed copies should suffice. Some candidates also find it beneficial to print out targeted CVs and have business cards to pass around. Depending on the positions you are applying for, you may also want to bring your work portfolio to career fairs.

3. Practice Your Elevator Pitch

Career fairs can be daunting for some; this can lead to the risk of anxiously oversharing or asking excessive questions; neither will impress prospective employers. Always aim to strike the balance in a conversation between meaningful and concise. 

As we have already established, you will only have a short amount of time to make a good first impression, which makes an elevator pitch the sharpest tool in your arsenal when it comes to impressing potential employers. Your elevator pitch will ideally take one minute or less from start to finish. 

For students and graduates, it is important to cover your field of study, relevant certifications and skills and relevant experience. If your skills are transferable, don’t be shy about mentioning them; just be sure you are confident, persuasive and brief without going too far and coming across as boastful and arrogant. If you are not naturally confident, try exuding it through body language and eye contact. Confidence is a learnt behaviour; with enough practice, there is nothing stopping you from becoming the most confident person and most desirable candidate in the room.

If you are unsure how effective your elevator pitch will be, run it by trusted peers, friends, or family members, who will be honest when providing constructive feedback. Once you have received constructive feedback, rehearse your pitch to ensure you can convey it confidently and concisely.

4. Research the Companies Beforehand

More often than not, career fair organisers will release a list of which companies will be in attendance before the event. Don’t just use this list to check if a career fair is worth attending; use it to research the companies and ascertain which companies are worth networking with. 

It may not be the case that every job role marketed at a career fair is available to view online, but you will still be able to get a good idea of whether you will have something to offer to a company. Furthermore, by doing your research, you will be better placed to converse with the recruiters, and getting caught off-guard during your conversations will be far less likely!

People networking at a career fair

5. Be Selective When Choosing Who to Network With

While there is nothing wrong with practising your pitches on companies you are ambivalent about before you introduce yourself to a representative from a company which could offer you your dream job, remember that many career fairs are large-scale events, and you won’t be able to work your way around the entire room. Your time is just as valuable as that of the recruiters; don’t waste it by speaking to recruiters looking for candidates that boast a very different skillset from the one you possess. 

If during a conversation with a recruiter, you receive the affirmation that your background doesn’t match the candidate requirements, take it in your stride while you move on to the next recruiter. Being comfortable with knowing that you are not a good fit is an essential skill that you will need to acquire if you want to be an effective networker at career fairs. There is no shame in politely thanking a recruiter for their time and moving on to the next.