How Should I Prepare for a College Career Fair?

Thanks for all of your responses to my tweet/facebook message! I received a lot of great questions and will be answering each of them in detail.  Keep on submitting your career questions to me at  Here’s today’s!

We have career fair here at my college next week and I was wondering what your thoughts are/ personal experience is with events like career fair. I would love any tips or strategy you have on attending a career fair or similar event. -Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn brings up a GREAT topic that a lot of college students are wondering about.  Career Fairs are…well, interesting.  Here are 3 ways to prep for a career fair.  Stay tuned as there will be a “part 2” to this question about “what to say at a career fair.”

Do your Due Diligence and Have a Plan

The worst thing you can do at a career fair is show up in a black suit and have no idea of where you’re going or what you want.  Some firms will have very long lines.  Others will have stringent hiring requirements with no room for negotiation.  And, don’t forget about the smaller firms you haven’t heard of! You could easily pass by your dream firm by not knowing they exist.

Have a clear picture of who will be at the career fair.  Get the list of attendees out and start narrowing down which companies you’d like to talk to.  Research field of study and GPA requirements and consider cutting the firms which you are a far cry from being hired at.  Rank the firms you feel are best for YOU (not for your friends or significant other!!), KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT EACH COMPANY BEFORE YOU GO UP AND SPEAK TO ITS RECRUITERS and plan out your route with the map and the time schedule provided.  Don’t be the student who goes up to a recruiter and says, “so what does your firm do?”

Dress to Impress

Ladies who have been through sorority recruitment know how important attire is at a recruiting event.  No, it’s not so you can look richer or more popular than everyone else.  It’s so that the recruiters have a better chance of remembering you among a sea of qualified, yet blandly dressed, students.  I always laugh at how hard college students and recent grads (including myself a few years ago) work at blending in with everyone else.  And, although you do still need to wear a suit to a career fair, blending in is not necessarily a good strategy.

Black, white, navy and blue suits are OK… but- believe it or not- recruiters LIKE candidates with a personality!  News Flash! You do not have to wear a white collared shirt under a black suit to get a job after college.

Add some type of “sparkle” to your outfit.  Luckily, women have several ways of doing this:  wear one memorable accessory- perhaps a multi-strand necklace, a scarf, fun earrings, a blouse with great fabric, a bright colored shirt underneath your suit or a headband.  Stay professional but don’t lose your personality.

Oh and ladies- make sure your nails are in check.  Either wear nail polish or don’t.  Chipping hot green nail polish is not ideal for a career fair.

3 Things you should bring to a career fair

  1. Bring way more resumes than you think you will need (printed on thick paper) and store them in a professional portfolio. Yes, you do need to buy a professional portfolio (even if you have to charge it on your credit card!).  These are your marketing materials and they have to look good!
  2. Bring your own business cards. Most other students won’t do this because they are too afraid it is “weird” or nerdy.  Yes, you may be in the minority here and that’s exactly the point!  Your business card is how you put your contact information right into a recruiter’s pocket (rather than putting your resume right into a huge pile of nothingness).  Feel free to make the card your favorite color and to put your blog and social media info on there if it fits your desired profession (PR, marketing, technology, etc.).  Include a “tagline” for yourself as a candidate showing what you can offer to a prospective employer- give them a reason to contact you.
  3. Consider bringing a bag that is big enough to collect flyers and marketing garb that the companies will be giving away. You’d be surprised how many promotional trinkets you will collect by the end of a career fair.

And for the most important thing?

What to say at a career fair

This topic deserves its own post.  Stay tuned for part 2!

Nicole Emerick

Nicole Emerick founded Ms. Career Girl in 2008 to help other ambitious young professional women thrive in a career they love. Ironically, growing MsCareerGirl helped Nicole transition her own career from commercial banker to digital marketer. Today Nicole leads the social media team at a large advertising agency in Chicago. Nicole also served as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where she helped develop the careers of PR, Advertising and Communications students. Tweet with Nicole @_NicoleEmerick.

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