Playing Fair: It Pays to Prepare

With the advancement of technology, including search engine optimization, teleconferencing, and video chat, the landscape of recruiting has changed. Much of the information job seekers need to know about companies are clearly posted on their websites. Other sites, like LinkedIn, provide company profiles. However, there is something to be said for interaction with a real-life recruiter or talent acquisition manager. 

Recruiters use the face-to-face interaction to assess a candidate’s interpersonal and communication skills. Job seekers are able to articulate what sets them apart and demonstrate the skills employers desire. While some employers recruit online exclusively, career fairs still play a unique role in connecting candidates with employers. Job seekers must be savvy in how they navigate a career fair. 

A few weeks ago, I accompanied a group of 18 students to a sports and entertainment career fair at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Ore. (Admission to the fair happened to include a ticket to that evening’s Blazer game.) Blazer game or not, the students were proactive in preparing for the fair. They wanted to know what companies would be there and the types of positions they would be hiring for. I received multiple questions about resumes, portfolios and business cards. Some scheduled appointments to go over their interviewing skills and 15-second pitch. I was super pleased with how many of them took full advantage of the opportunity to connect with employers. Within a week of the fair, I received a note from a student that read, “I just wanted to let you know that I got an offer for a summer internship with the Salem Volcanoes!” Based on a conversation I had with her that night, I learned that they were her top pick. While others may not have received offers, they were able to network with professionals and gain confidence in their ability to promote their qualifications.

The success of this group of students can be summed up in the following tips for making the most of a career fair.

Conduct Employer Research – Request a list of employers registered for the fair. Review the list and identify the select group of employers that piques your interest. Visit the company websites to learn who they are, their vision/mission/values, clients they serve, etc. Develop a comprehensive understanding of your target employers.

Create a Game Plan – Prepare or update your resume (I recommend Optimal Resume or an iConnect Resume Workshop). Print and take extra copies in notebook or portfolio. Prioritize your time well. If one particular employer’s booth is crowded, you may want to move onto another employer and come back later. If that employer is your top pick, then you may choose to wait a long time. Use the time in line to engage in conversation with those around you.

Treat the Fair Like an Interview – Arrive on time. Dress professionally in a suit, paying attention to personal hygiene and grooming. Make eye contact, smile and initiate conversations with a professional handshake. Clearly and concisely articulate what qualifies you as a good fit for the organization. Sell yourself! Ask intelligent questions beyond subjects that could easily be addressed by the company’s website. 

Follow Up and Follow-Through – Obtain business cards from recruiters so you can write them a quick thank you note or e-mail. Take the next step in the process, whether it’s completing an online application, making a phone call, or submitting supporting documentation. Timely follow-through is critical, so act promptly within 24 hours to solidify a connection with the employer.

Despite the increased use of technology in recruitment, career fair participation remains strong. George Fox University partners with eight other liberal arts universities, the Oregon Liberal Arts Placement Consortium (OLAPC), to coordinate a large-scale career fair. By collaborating, we are able to attract more and better employers than if we were to host nine individual fairs.

The First Avenue Career & Graduate School Fair will take place on April 1 from noon to 3 p.m. at the University of Portland Chiles Center. Students may register online for $5, or it’s $10 at the door with a student ID card. Career Services will provide transportation to those who need it. Please encourage your student to take advantage of this incredible opportunity. For more information, visit or contact Career Services at George Fox. 

Angela J. Doty, MA, GCDF
Associate Director of Career Services