How to Make the Most out of a Career Fair

July 29th, 2010 5 Min read How to Make the Most out of a Career Fair Blog

Career fairs and conventions are great places to make your presence felt. Those are the venues for healthcare professionals to make or mar their connections in the industry. Expert career coach E. Chandlee Bryan presents her 12 strategies to make your personality shine in a career fair setting.

Career fairs and other events featuring exhibits with hiring managers can expand your awareness of opportunities and increase your stature as a candidate for employment. Here are 12 strategies to make the most of these events from making a lasting impression to getting the information you need to make an informed decision on where to focus your efforts.

1. Register in advance and research exhibitors

Many career fairs offer advance registration for candidates. Take advantage of this offering as it can translate into shorter sign-in lines at the event. Frequently, career fair sites also include an advance list of attending employers. Use the list to identify exhibitors of potential interest and research 1-2 fast facts for discussion with each employer.

2. Get ready for the collateral exchange

Just as exhibitors will prepare printed materials and “swag” for your perusal, many of your peers will show up with business cards and CVs. Bring updated material that you can pass along to employers of interest. If you are in the active job market for full-time positions and are not currently employed, consider having a business card made with your credentials and contact information.

3. Dress the part

Even if you are not actively searching and it has been advertised as a “casual career fair,” don’t show up in your scrubs. Dress professionally - err on the side of conservatism, and wear clothes that aren’t conversation starters. “They wore what?” is a perennial discussion among recruiters.

4. Introduce yourself with a firm handshake and direct eye contact.

While not all cultures use a firm handshake to convey trust, a majority of U.S. employers evaluate this non-verbal body language when they consider first impressions. A loose grip in a handshake can be viewed as a sign of disinterest or lack of strength. To make a strong impression that conveys both confidence and trustworthiness, give a moderate squeeze when shaking hands and combine it with direct eye contact.

5. Craft a 15 second opening pitch

Work on your introduction statement that includes information on your background as well as your career goals—the opportunity you seek. Want a jump-start? Use the pitch wizard at for a do-it-yourself introduction that will take you less than 15 minutes to create. Bonus points: Incorporate your employer research and customize to meet the needs of employers.

6. Map out a strategy

When you arrive at the event, expect to receive a layout of the exhibit hall as you register. Study the map and highlight the exhibitors you’d like to see, making a short list of “must stops.”

7. Introduce yourself first to an employer who isn’t on your short list

Even if you are completely confident about your 15-second pitch and goals, your pitch will get stronger as you speak to employers throughout the event. Starting with an employer who isn’t on your list will give you a chance to practice and refine your statement. Ideally, visit an exhibitor with slow traffic and short lines first—this will save you time for later.

8. Don’t ignore networking in the line

As you wait to speak to exhibitors, spend time with fellow event attendees who are waiting as well. You may find that you make friends, gain valuable information, and even find new leads.

9. Keep an open mind

Even if you have concrete plans and goals ahead such as a fellowship or a full-time job, listen to what exhibitors have to say. For example; you may learn about locum tenens opportunities that are available during time gaps between previously arranged commitments. You may make a connection in a new organization or a lead for “later.”

10. Stay precise and concise

When you talk to employers, keep your conversation focused and brief. Job fairs often feature long lines of candidates and can be daunting to employers. Keep your ears open as candidates before you talk to employers, and consider introducing the employer to the candidate behind you in line if the discussion veers along a path of mutual interest. You demonstrate you are a team player when you introduce your “competition” with ease and present their interests. “This is Ben and he’s also interested in opportunities in cardiology.” When you demonstrate a high level of cooperation and courtesy, you can make an employer more willing to share their own business card, which in turn, gives you a great vehicle to follow-up after the event.

11. Research your list

Immediately after the event, develop a short list of employers of interest. Research employers of interest to you and follow organizational developments. Visiting websites and searching for news releases and mentions can help you stay abreast of current developments—and hiring needs.

12. Get back with enthusiasm

Follow up call or send e-mail directly to individuals you’ve talked to and reiterate your interest. It will help you stay top-of-mind during the hiring process. When you follow-up, remind contacts of where you met, your area of specialty and briefly reintroduce yourself. If you send an electronic copy of your CV as part of your follow-up, include your name and specialty area in the title of your document and in your e-mail—this will help others file and keep your information close at hand.

Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to opening doors as you walk around the career fair.

About the Author

E. Chandlee Bryan, M.Ed., is a certified professional resume writer, coach and former ivy league career counselor. Prior to starting her own business, she worked briefly as a recruiter and spent over eight years connecting ivy league students with employment opportunities. She is the former director of career services of the engineering school at Dartmouth College and worked for many years in career services at the University of Pennsylvania.