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Advice / Job Search / Networking

Headed to a Career Fair? How to Stand Out

Career fair interviews are a breed all their own—and not just because you’ll be toting a swag bag full of pens, stress balls, and company-branded chapstick by the time you leave.

When you step into a career fair, you’ll be in a sea of other candidates and employers, each trying to scout each other out to find the perfect fit. You’ll have to make your presence known and command the attention of company representatives—before the interview even starts!

If you’re about to make your way down the aisles of employers, follow these tips to make sure your interview is successful and memorable, even if it’s on the fly.

Your Interview is Happening—Right Now

Dressed in your interview best, you walk up to a company’s booth, introduce yourself, and hand over your resume. You’re chatting with the representative, when all of a sudden she shakes your hand again and dismisses you with a cheerful, “Thanks for coming by! We’ll be in touch by the end of the week.”

And that, my friend, was your interview.

Career fair interviews vary by event—and by company, too. Some businesses will have a sign-up sheet for available interview slots later in the afternoon, so you can simply write in your name (is that the easiest interview you’ve ever snagged, or what?). Others will invite you to step behind a curtain or screen to meet with you in a slightly more private setting.

But commonly, these interviews are simply conducted on the fly. That means that as soon as you reach out your hand to greet the rep behind the table, your interview has started. So, don’t wait for a formal invitation, or even an acknowledgement that you’re being interviewed—put your best foot forward as soon as you step up to the booth. You don’t have to skip the small talk entirely, but you should dive in to talking business within the first 30 seconds.

Don’t Just Ask Questions

Insightful questions about your target company are great—but also be sure to talk about yourself, your background, and why you’d be a great fit. If your entire conversation consists of you asking about the company and what it does, your interviewer will have little to remember you uniquely by.

So, make yourself unforgettable. Have your elevator pitch perfected and at the ready, and use memorable anecdotes to explain your recent accomplishments and past experience. Then, when the hiring manager glances back through the stack of resumes, she’ll see yours and remember, “Oh, she’s that event planner who successfully saved a big blogging conference when two speakers and a caterer backed out at the last second. She’d be perfect for this position!”


Be Seen and Heard

Career fairs can be intimidating—and crowded. Even if you’re interviewing behind a curtain or screen, you’ll have to fight the background noise in order to maintain your focus—and keep your interviewer focused on you.

So what’s the first step to make sure your interview goes well? Speak up. When you’re fighting a crowd of confident, aggressive job-hunters, you’ll need to make sure you’re speaking audibly and clearly, so your interviewer hears every word that you say as you explain why you’re a perfect fit for the company or ask insightful questions about its field. OK, so you’re not at a rock concert and the din won’t be eardrum-blasting—but, a timid voice won’t produce great results in a room full of side conversations.

In addition to speaking up, make sure you maintain good eye contact. Nothing will shift an interviewer’s focus faster than watching your eyes drift across the room, especially if there’s another eager jobseeker standing beside you, looking for her opportunity to cut it. So as much as you’d like to gape at the newbie who showed up in a miniskirt—keep your head in the moment and your focus firmly planted on the task at hand: Landing a new job.

Know Your Stuff

Career fairs are set up like informational expos—participating companies usually bring marketing materials like brochures, flyers, and banners. But you be forewarned: You aren’t reading those materials until—maybe—the night after the fair, and the abundance of information sitting on the table is no excuse for coming in unprepared.

Even though companies are there to share information with you, if there are particular ones you already know you want to talk to, you should walk in the door with a working knowledge of what they do, the kind of people they want to hire, and the positions they’re hoping to fill. That way, when your interview starts, you can casually bring up the Executive Training Program you’d read about last week, or the Marketing Associate position that just opened up on the website. Plus, with this research, you’ll be able to ask specific, relevant questions of the representative.

After three hours in heels, 25 interviews, and just as many handshakes, you’ll be exhausted. But if you go into your career fair interviews with confidence (and a well thought out plan), it’ll be worth it—because you just might find yourself with a new career.

Looking for a new gig? Check out these companies that are hiring now!


Photo of career fair courtesy of Shutterstock.