How to Navigate a Career Fair

by Candace Queen, Associate Art Director, DigitasLBi 

Career fairs can induce a barrage of emotion: excitement, anticipation, hope, anxiety, nervousness, the urge to bolt out the door. At my first career fair that’s exactly what I did, I walked in, took one look around at the organized chaos and walked right back out. It’s been some time since then, and I’ve learned a few things that have helped position me where I’m at today.

  1. Be intentional. The biggest disservice that you can do to yourself, is attend a career fair without knowing about the companies, the activities happening throughout the day or the audience that the career fair is catering to. I urge you to check out the list that AAF is providing, do some research, identify the agencies that are doing work that you admire and target those. Additionally, explore agencies that you may not be familiar with and probe the recruiters with questions.
  2. Consider volunteering. Each time I attended a career fair hosted by AAF, I volunteered. It gave me an entirely different experience compared to the times where I just showed up and pitched myself. As a volunteer you get to help behind the scenes, you’re a constant face for recruiters in need of setting up or just knowing which way the restroom is. I had longer conversations with them because I could get into the exhibition room ahead of everyone else, without distractions. By my 4th career fair, I was pretty well known and it played a huge role in being selected for my first agency internship.
  3. Do a warm up. It can be incredibly daunting to walk up to a top-tier agency and attempt to pitch yourself. My dad’s a minister and before that he was an evangelist. That meant we were regularly on road trips and constantly meeting new people, which for an introverted 8 year-old, wasn’t the ideal situation. How did I get comfortable talking to new folks? I looked around for the people who seemed pretty unintimidating and struck up conversations. By the end of service I was well-prepared to stand in front of the church as 50+ people walked up to greet “Rev. Queen and his sweet family.” Not only will there be agencies, but there will be organizations represented that focus on growth and mentorship. Talk to them first! It’ll get you into the rhythm of things and you’ll also make some valuable connections.
  4. Avoid tunnel vision. Career fairs can turn into vulture zones really quickly. Be sure to mix it up by attending the break-out sessions and engaging with other attendees. The break-out sessions are also a good way to connect with agency employees who work more on the day-to-day client work. Don’t be the person who zones in on a recruiter and forgets to engage with people around you. Yes, you’re there to make career connections and get an internship or job. But you’re also meeting people that you’ll be working alongside over the next few decades of your career. This is a great time to get to know people, and make organic connections with your future colleagues.
  5. Be ready for an opportunity. Have all the things. Have your business cards, your resume, your website up and running with your portfolio updated. Spell check everything and have a friend or mentor take a look at your materials before going to print. Not a designer? No problem, Microsoft and Moo.com have partnered together to make some beautifully designed templates available, check those out!. Remember, at any given moment you should be ready to show how you’re the perfect candidate for the role you want.
  6. Follow up. Start with a thank-you email with a reminder of something notable in your conversation. Then follow up again. In this mAD life we work in, on any given day a person can receive 50-150 emails depending on their workload. So I always encourage folks to wait a week and follow up again if you don’t hear anything. I promise you that it’s not personal, things just get that crazy, especially for recruiters. When you do secure contact, if there aren’t any current opportunities, consider requesting an informational interview with someone in the area that you’d like to work in.

Hopefully at this point you’re starting to feel encouraged. If you have questions about my tips or just want to bounce ideas around, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn!