How to Prepare for a Career Fair

What is a career fair?

A career fair is an event that brings company representatives and job seekers together.

Often, company representatives attend career fairs to find qualified candidates for open jobs. At a fair, representatives can meet many candidates - and job seekers can meet with many companies - in a short time.

Sometimes company representatives attend a fair to attract talented students and recent graduates without having a specific job they're trying to fill, or they attend simply to talk with students about their organization, job opportunities and career paths.

How to Prepare for a Career Fair

Whether a career fair is virtual or in person, there are lots of things you can do to prepare.

Four Weeks Out

  • Add the career fair date and time to your calendar.
    • You don't have to attend any fair the whole time. Fairs often span several hours to accommodate job seekers' varied schedules. You can attend for just one hour, if that's all the time you have.
  • Clarify your reasons for attending the fair. Why are you going? What do you hope to gain? Are you actively looking for a job, co-op or internship, or are you going mainly to observe?
  • Update and polish your resume or CV. Use the VMock online tool to get customized suggestions and instant feedback.
  • Get a free professional head shot for your Handshake profile.

Three Weeks Out

  • Make sure your Handshake profile is accurate and complete
    • Pay special attention to major, school year, GPA and U.S. work authorization status.
    • Set your profile visibility to Community. This way, you can participate in all sessions in a virtual fair.
    • Having a complete profile will make you stand out and help recruiters get to know you.
  • Prepare a brief self-introduction (e.g., name, major, year, and one question). This is sometimes called an elevator speech. Practice it till you feel comfortable.
  • Look for "Prepare for the Fair" workshops in Handshake and plan to attend.

Two Weeks Out

  • Upload your resume to Handshake and make it visible on your profile
    • After a virtual fair, employers you met with one-on-one will be able to view and download your resume.
  • Preview the employers that will be attending. View their websites and their Handshake profiles. In Handshake, you can use filters and keywords to home in on the ones that align with your interests and qualifications, and star your favorites.
  • Prepare two or three questions. The best questions are short and to the point and show that you did some research.
    • Examples of questions to ask:
      • "If I were in this job, what kinds of projects would I be working on?"
      • "What do you like about working for this company?" This can give you insight into company culture.
    • Examples of questions not to ask:
      • "What jobs are you hiring for?" This should be addressed on the company's Handshake profile or website. (If it is not, then it is okay to ask.)
      • "Based on my resume, what kind of job do you think would be good for me?" Such an open-ended question that focuses on you is more appropriate to a networking event than a career fair. If you have questions about what types of opportunities might be a good fit for your major or skill set, or you would like assistance with your job search, schedule an appointment with your career coach prior to the fair or review What Can I Do with This Major?
    • Be considerate of others: You will typically have just a few minutes to speak with recruiters or company representatives. Your conversation should be focused on your skills and how they align with opportunities at the organization.

One Week Out

  • Of the employers that are coming, decide which ones you want to meet, and give them a rating: A (definitely want to meet), B (want to meet), and C (meet if I have time). Rating them will help you manage your time at the fair.
  • If available, attend company information sessions to learn about the company's culture, hiring process, and current priorities from someone who actually works there. Look for information sessions in Handshake.
  • Plan what you will wear. (Even in a virtual fair, recruiters will see you on video.) Present yourself at your best: clean, neat and dressed in business professional or business casual attire. Give yourself time to make sure that everything you're going to wear (including undergarments, shoes, and accessories) is clean and in good condition.
    • At the UC Professional and Technical Career Fair, the dress code is business professional. Students wearing jeans, tennis shoes or t-shirts are not admitted.
    • Look in Handshake for a JCPenney Suit Up event, where UC students can get deep discounts on professional clothing and accessories.
    • Consider shopping at the Bearcats Pantry and Resource Center's Career Closet, which offers free professional clothing for career fairs, interviews, internships or presentations to UC students who qualify. It offers suit jackets, pants, ties, dresses, blazers, shoes and other accessories. When a student picks out an outfit, it is theirs to keep.
  • Get ready to follow up after the fair.

Virtual Fair: Sign Up for Sessions

The only way to meet recruiters at a virtual fair in Handshake is to sign up for sessions:

  • If you’re actively looking for a job or internship, choose one-on-one (1:1) sessions, which are like 10-minute pre-interviews. Four to six one-on-one sessions is a good target.
  • If you’re just browsing or exploring career paths, sign up for group sessions.
  • Look beyond the big names. You never know where you'll find a great opportunity.
  • Pace yourself. Screen fatigue is real, and a career fair can be intense. Try to give yourself at least one ten-minute break every hour to collect your thoughts, jot down some notes, eat a snack, use the restroom, look out the window, refocus, and prepare for your next set of sessions.
  • Check back. More sessions may open as the fair gets closer.
  • Learn how to join virtual fair sessions and how to move from one to the next.

Virtual Fair: Get Your Device Ready

Attending a virtual fair relies on having a working device and a good internet connection. Follow these steps to get your device ready:

  • Decide which device you will use for the virtual fair. A desktop or laptop will be more comfortable and easier to use than a phone.
  • Check the Handshake video requirements, and test your camera, microphone and speakers.
  • Think about where you will physically be during the fair. Choose a place with a reliable internet connection that is quiet, where you can focus. Headphones or earbuds are a good idea, if you have them.
  • Pay attention to your background. It should not be distracting or undermine the positive impression you’re trying to make. A plain or blurred background is a safe choice.
  • Choose your web browser. Handshake works best with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Do not use Internet Explorer.

Day of the Fair

In-Person Fair Day-of Checklist

  • Get a good night's sleep. Eat breakfast. Drink water throughout the day.
  • Be clean, neat and dressed professionally or nice business casual.
  • Bring 10-15 copies of your resume in a folder or portfolio.
  • Bring a pen and a notepad or notebook.
  • Bring your Bearcat card (student ID).
  • Have your self-introduction ready.
  • Once you arrive, take a few minutes to get acclimated. Look around and locate the employers you want to visit. Take some deep breaths to center yourself.
  • To warm up, approach one or two employers on your "B" or "C" list. This will help you feel more confident when approaching your A-list companies.
  • As you talk with recruiters, make notes of which companies you visit, who you talk to, and your thoughts about working there. Collect business cards so you can send a thank-you message.
  • Follow up after the fair.

Virtual Fair Day-of Checklist

  • Get a good night's sleep. Eat breakfast. Drink water throughout the day.
  • Be clean, neat and dressed professionally or nice business casual.
  • Have a copy of your resume handy for reference. Consider having a copy open on your device in case you get a chance to screen-share with a recruiter.
  • Have your self-introduction ready.
  • Choose a quiet environment. Remind anyone who lives with you to stay quiet and not interrupt you.
  • Make sure your device has a reliable internet connection.
  • Check your device’s video and audio.
  • Get familiar with how to join sessions and how to move from one to the next.
  • As you talk with recruiters, make notes of which companies you visit, who you talk to, and your thoughts about working there. Jot down recruiters' names and contact information in case you want to follow up or send a thank-you message.
  • Follow up after the virtual fair.
  • If you need help or have questions on the day, see if there is a virtual student help desk.

Best Practices

UC Career Centers

UC's career centers provide online self-help resources as well as career coaches who can help you prepare for a fair. Seek them out at the career center that's best for you: