January / February 2017

Make the Most of Your Day at a Job Fair

David G. Smith

Hi Dave: I plan to attend a job fair soon, and would like to know if you have any tips on how to navigate it successfully.

A job fair can offer a unique opportunity to speak directly with hiring managers and recruiters, and provide information that that may not be easy to find online. Success, however, is determined greatly by your preparedness.

These events tend to be very busy, and job seekers typically have a very limited time to make meaningful connections and obtain important information. During the time you spend with company representatives, it is critical to be as efficient as possible with your questions while making the best impression you can. Here are some other tips to maximize your opportunity.


  • Most job fairs offer a directory of the companies that will attend. Evaluate and prioritize the list. Review company websites, social media feeds, and other online sources to determine which are good matches for you.
  • Review each company’s career section for open positions and information on how to apply for them.
  • Rank your targeted companies, find their locations on the job fair map, and plan to visit them in order of priority.
  • Create a folder for each company you plan to target. Write questions based on your research, then rank them in order of importance. This will help answer your most pressing questions during the limited time you may have.
  • Review registration requirements, or register online in advance, if possible. Forgetting your ticket or ID could cost a great deal of time or even force you to miss the event, so make sure you are prepared.
  • Map your commute to the event location or make a test drive so you know how long it will take to get there.
  • Bring a portfolio, pen, and notepad; breath mints; business cards; copies of your resume; event map with target companies highlighted; and a handkerchief to dry your hands.

Don’t bring your research folders—use your notepad to list questions and information for each company. This will put everything you need in one place and keep you on task. Leave some blank pages between companies so you have plenty of room for notes.

Next, be ready to answer questions about yourself. You should be able to provide a brief account of your background, why you’re interested in each organization, and the type of opportunity you are pursuing. A concise and focused “elevator pitch” should take about 30 seconds. If you don’t want to target just one type of job, be ready to describe the function or kind of role that you are most interested in.


Make sure that you create a great first impression: Conservative suits in black, navy, or gray are best. Avoid flashy, colorful items, and strong perfumes or colognes. Wear a watch, but keep other accessories to a minimum. Remember— you want the attention on you, not what you are wearing. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep before the event. Coffee or an energy drink may make you more awake, but they can also drive anxiousness and jitters.

Once through registration, stop for a moment to take in the room. Assess the crowd and match your map to what you see. Job fairs are networking opportunities, so try to make connections throughout the day. While waiting in line or walking to the next company, pay attention to the conversation around you. You may overhear valuable information about the companies you want to contact. Be aware that allies in your search could just as easily be a fellow job seekers or career fair workers. Bring energy and enthusiasm to your conversations. Show your interest with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and a smile.

Collect as many business cards as you can, and write critical information directly on each. When it’s time to apply for a position, you can stand out by referencing that connection in your cover letter or in future communications.


Assess the day: Evaluate how effectively you achieved your objectives and note any obstacles you encountered.

Once you get home, organize your notes, cards, and company material in your folders to prepare your list of follow-up action items. Even though you may have given a company your resume, you may still need to apply online for positions you spoke about at the job fair. When you do, incorporate any information you gained from speaking with the company representative, and reference the connection in your cover letter.

Follow up with every contact that you made, remind them of your conversation, and any next steps you discussed. Act quickly to keep the momentum going.


Job fairs are a great way to discover new companies, obtain hard-to-find information, get career advice, and develop important connections. When approached with an open mind and a professional attitude, they can help take you to the next step in your career.

ISPE will hold several events across the globe this coming year. I hope to see you at one of them, and I look forward to hearing your success stories. In the meantime, let me know if you have additional questions about your career. I may be able to answer them in a future article.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Send me your career questions at I look forward to answering them in a future column.