Conquering the Career Fair

The career fair is a great opportunity for students to meet potential employers and practice being in a professional environment. That being said, they can be extremely intense and competitive. This guide will go through the necessary steps to succeed and stand out.

Before the Fair

The key to a successful career fair is the prep you put in before it. The following are a few guidelines and tips to make sure you are as prepared as possible.

Apply Online!

A lot of companies might have already opened up their companies on Handshake prior to the fair. Be sure to check before the fair and apply. This way, recruiters might be able to fast-track your application at the fair and this will show that you are prepared.

Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is the most integral part of your career fair experience as it is your go-to conversation starter with companies and recruiters. Essentially, it is a short (1 to 2 minute) pitch that details who you are, your past experience, and why you are interested in the current company.

It is highly recommended you first write your pitch down and then practice it several times until you have it memorized. While writing it make sure you cover the following things:

  • Name, university, and graduation year
  • Major, minor, certificates, focus areas, any interests you have
  • Your past work experiences. If no relevant work experience, talk about your coding experience
  • Why you are interested in the current company
  • What role you are interested in (Software Engineering Internship)
  • Why you are a good fit for that company and that position
  • Questions for the recruiter to kickstart the conversation

Example Pitch:

Hi, my name is [First_Name] [Last_Name] and I am a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. Right now, I am studying Computer Science but I also have plans to receive a double major in Communications, and minors in Chinese and a certificate in Leadership. My reasoning for studying communications is that I believe today most computer science majors have exceptional technical skills, but lack the necessary communication skills to be able to collaborate and lead others. I am interested in minoring in Chinese because I would like to further my current fluency in order to serve a global market and stand out from competition.

Currently, I am interested in software development with hopes of working management in the future, where I would effectively lead teams of workers through powerful communication skills. I have come to realize that as a CompSci major I am much more qualified and outgoing than most of my peers, and I hope to further that margin by diversifying my work experience.

That is why I am interested in interning this summer for SIG. If I were to be at your company not only will I provide an excellent work ethic and technical understanding, but I will also utilize social skills I spent the time to study in hopes of maximizing my team’s productivity. Furthermore as a Chester County native, I have gotten to know quite a few SIG employees, and through conversations with them I have realized that SIG is a great fit for me.

I'm curious about your experience at SIG. How long have you been at the company and what has been the move valuable thing you've learned or experienced so far?

Some of these things require researching the company for information. For example, it's always a good idea to bring up a company's core principles and discuss how you fit within them. But when a career fair has so many companies, it may be hard to decide which companies you should really focus and research on and which you shouldn't. Luckily, there's the 3-9-27 Rule.

3-9-27

The 3-9-27 rule is a convention used for selecting companies at a career fair. Essentially of the list of companies provided, you choose three companies you go all out for, nine companies you put in some research for, and twenty seven companies that you visit with little to no preparation.

Three Companies

These three companies are your top choices for the career fair and are places you really would want to work at. Prior to the career fair, make sure you know the following:

  • A role the company has posted that you are interested in
  • What the company's purpose/mission is and why it aligns with your values
  • Any connection to a company that you have. Ex: You've used the company's product before
  • Have 3-5 questions prepared to ask them

Make sure you talk to them and that when you do, it is obvious that you spent time researching them. Also, do not visit these companies first. Make sure you are warmed up by going to other companies and getting a feel for your pitch.

Nine Companies

The nine companies you choose should all be companies that, if you were to get an offer from them, you'd be happy to work there. Make sure you have the following:

  • Why you're interested in the company
  • Any connection to the company you have
  • 2-3 questions prepared beforehand.

It's okay that you don't visit all nine companies. These companies are used more for warm-up and prep for your top 3 companies.

Twenty-Seven Companies

When you talk to the twenty-seven companies, your main objective is to get your resume out to different companies and to practice your pitch. Ask these companies questions, but make them generic and not company-specific.

Optimal Visit Order

In one career fair you will most likely get to talk with ten employers max, so make sure you plan accordingly. Here's a recommended company visit plan:

  1. Visit 2-3 of your Twenty-Seven companies. By now you should be warmed up. If not, visit more twenty-seven companies or any company with a short line
  2. Visit all of your Three companies
  3. Visit your nine companies until the fair closes.

Optimize companies based on line length! If you are waiting 15+ minutes for a Twenty-Seven company, then you are wasting your time!

Dress Code + What to Bring

After preparing your elevator pitch and your 3-9-27 list, it's time to plan what you'll bring and wear to the fair.

Dress Code

Many tech companies are known for having a lax dress code. That does not mean you should show up to fair dressing casually.

Women

Women have more options than men but the guideline is still to stay professional. A business suit with pants or skirt is always appropriate, but a dress or skirt and blouse are sufficient in most situations as well. If you wear a skirt, do not wear it too short. A hemline just above or below the knee is best. You can also pair your outfit with a blazer or sweater/cardigan or suit jacket. Light jewelry is allowed as well.

For shoes, boots, pumps with heels, or other closed toe shoes are acceptable, but try to avoid sneakers. Don't wear flip-flops, sandals, or flimsy shoes. Definitely avoid shoes that are hard to walk in.

Men

Typically, business casual attire is recommended. At the bare minimum, wear khaki/dress pants and a button down shirt. If you don't have access to professional clothing, the career center rents out clothes.

For shoes, try to wear something nicer than sneakers. Definitely avoid flip-flops, sandals, or flimsy shoes.

Accessories

Since you are not allowed to bring a backpack into the career fair, you should also be tactical about what you carry on your hands. Bare minimum you need to print out around 20 copies of your resume.

Here is a recommended list of things to bring:

  • Padfolio: These are super cheap on Amazon and will hold your resumes, while also providing a place for you to conveniently write notes and store business cards.
  • Notebook/Notepad: You want to write notes while talking to companies. It shows interest and also will help you keep track of contacts and other information.
  • Multiple Pens: Make sure you bring at least one pen. Companies will have a lot of free pens so you can take those, but if you lose things easily then it might be a better bet to have multiple for safety sake.
  • Water: You'll be talking a lot. Water will help you stay refreshed throughout the fair.
  • Drawstring Bag: You'll have a lot of opportunity to get a lot of swag. It quickly becomes hard to hold it all with just your hands. Having a drawstring to hold it makes it much easier.
  • List of Questions to ask: On a piece of paper write down some questions you can ask. If a conversation is slowing down you can quickly ask one of them and revive the discussion.

At the Fair

The reason why you prepare for a career fair is to stand out from the others. Make sure you do all you can to leave a good impression.

Employer's Perspective

From the company's point of view, the recruiters and engineers are not only looking for qualified candidates, but people that they would be happy to work with for forty hours a week. To achieve this, be friendly, energetic, and fun to talk to. Remember that the people at booths are sacrificing their time and probably have heard a spiel from multiple students. Do not waste their time!

This is more easily said than done, and the only way to improve at it is to practice. Nevertheless here are a few things you should aim for:

  • Bubbly personality
  • Interesting activity, experience, pitch
  • Ability to answer and ask questions in a conversational nature
  • Show interest to the speaker
  • Be fun! Laugh, have a smile, be energetic.
  • Demonstrated skill through a technical or non-technical project displayed on your resume or brought up in conversation.

Questions to Ask

You'll want to have questions prepared to ask companies and employers. The tech interview handbook has a great list here!

Always make sure you have the contact information for each person you talk to! By the end of the conversation, be sure to ask for it if it didn't already come up.

After the Fair

Now that you're done with the career fair, it's time for the final step: Reaching out to each person you met and thanking them!

Usually this is done through email or LinkedIn message. Here's an example email to send (we highly recommending editing it to help you stand out):

Dear [Contact's first name],

It was great meeting you at [Career fair name], thanks for taking the time to talk with me! As we discussed, I view myself as a great candidate for [Company name here].

I'd like to reaffirm my interest in [company name here] and can't wait to apply to [company name]'s [position name]. I have attached my resume to this email and am happy to provide references at your request.

I had such a great time talking with you. If you have any questions or updates please let me know!

Best,
[Your Name Here]
Last updated: Jul 16th 2020