International Students: How to Navigate a Career Fair
For many international students, career fairs may seem a bit strange or difficult to navigate, but they are one of the most valuable resources in the United State for college students who are searching for jobs and internships.
What is a Career Fair?
One of the misconceptions about a career fair is that its only purpose is to find a job that day, or for the employer to fill a particular position during the fair itself. Going into a career fair with the expectation that you will leave with a job offer will likely set you up for disappointment. Career fairs provide a chance to practice your networking skills when meeting new employers or checking out graduate school possibilities. You might meet your future employer there, but the event is about building a relationship and making an initial connection, usually not about interviewing or getting hired for a specific job. Every year, the UVA Career Center hosts two big career fairs in the fall and spring; make sure you check Handshake and our promotional emails to find out know the dates for those events so you’re not having to prepare at the last minute.
Should I attend the career fair?
You know how you usually regret it more when you don’t do something than when you do it? Career fairs fall in this category. Not all students find jobs and internships after the career fair, but going to the career fair is a great preparation for the actual job search process. Think of it as a way to practice your networking skills and explore different career possibilities. For international students, career fairs also provide a way to understand and overcome cultural differences and to see how people network with employers and others on their way to getting a job.
What do I need to do for a career fair?
Life is full of unexpected turns, but knowing what you hope to get out of a career fair ahead of time can help you prepare to present yourself well and gain the information and connections you’re hoping for. Whether you are a first year hoping to meet and greet new people, or a third year looking for internships over the summer, here are some things that may be helpful to know:
Preparation before the fair: This is often the most important piece, and the good news is that many of the things you’ll need to do to prepare for a career fair will also help you get prepared for your job search as it continues.
- Get a resume ready that concisely presents all that you can offer the company. The formatting of a U.S. resume might be very different from what you would expect in your home country. Come see a career counselor or CPE during the Career Center’s open office hours for a resume review. You can also get some tips from our Hoos Career Guide (available online and the Career Center satellite and main offices).
- Craft a personal pitch. This is an elevator pitch with a 15-30 second overview of your qualifications and interests that allows you to make connections with the employer. Again, if you want help with this, come to office hours to talk with a Career Counselor. They can help you figure out what’s best to include in your pitch.
- Research background information on the companies you’re interested in. Finding a company that sponsors visas for international students sometimes turns out to be the most challenging thing to in your job search process. There's often some uncertainty around this and you may have to wait till later in the process to figure it out, so don't let the uncertainty keep you from talking to organizations you're interested in, but it can also help to do some research to find out which employers have sponsored visas in the past, in order to target your search.
- Make sure to prepare all logistics the night before the career fair to minimize stress right before the event. Plan the clothes you are going to wear and make sure they are professional. Wear comfortable shoes!!
During the fair
- Consider bringing a portfolio or professional looking folder to hold your resumes and any other documents. Feel free to bring a pen and a notebook to make notes about the companies you’re interested in or to jot down anything you notice while you’re speaking with the employer.
- Once you arrive at the location of the career fair, head to the registration table to check in and receive a career fair map (which shows you where all the companies are tabling for that day). Tip: start out with the companies that you are least anxious to meet with first and work your way up to your top-priority companies; this will give you a chance to practice your pitch and get used to the environment before speaking with the employers who matter most to you.
- When talking with employers, after you have given your pitch, go ahead and let the conversation flow. The employers might be more eager to meet you than you even realized. Ask them questions that you prepared ahead of time or that just come to you in the moment. (Here is a list of sample questions you can ask employers and here is a list of questions employers might ask you.) If you have questions about their hiring policy, you can ask it now or any time during the job search and (later) then interview process. Try to act naturally (while remaining professional) when you’re talking with employers; they’re here to see you because they’re interested in recruiting students just like you.
- At the end of your conversation with an employer, feel free to ask him/her for a business card as well as give the employer a copy of your resume. This helps you to solidify the connection you make with the employer by giving you a chance to follow up with the employer and by giving the employer a chance to keep your resume on file.
After the fair
Be sure to send a follow up email that thanks the employer for their time and helps them remember you. Make sure to include your name, how you met and something you talked about with the recruiter at the career fair. You can also ask to connect with the recruiter on LinkedIn. If you are interested in the company’s work and job openings, you should apply to their available positions through their web portal. The Career Center would be eager to help you with any phases that you feel struggle with, feel free to come to us for any questions! Tip: Career fairs are great ways to connect with employers, but they are almost never the only thing you have to do in the job search process. Giving a recruiter your resume is not the same thing as applying to a job – you should follow up with the recruiter AND apply to open positions using the company’s website (or whatever method they ask job seekers to use).
For More Information
Mindset is Everything: My First Career Fair - This is a Career Peer Educator’s blog post about her first time at a career fair last year that offers relatable and effective advice for all.
How to Navigate a Career Fair - This is another great resource that will offer you lots of tips on how to navigate a career fair, whether it’s your first or fourth time attending!
Career Fair Countdown Series - This is a series of blog posts that gives a nice comprehensive timeline of the tasks that should be completed before going to a career fair.