How to Navigate a Career Fair


Knowing what you want out of a career fair ahead of time will set you up to best achieve your goals. Consider the following reasons:

  • To meet employers as a first step in getting a job
  • To begin the process of obtaining interviews.
  • To meet employers to obtain an internship.
  • To explore career options with a wide variety of employers in order to clarify professional goals.

Preparation Before the Fair

  1. Review and research the employers you want to talk to. You can find this list on Handshake under “Events” and “Career Fairs”. If made available online (or via Handshake), know what positions they’re hiring for and tailor your resume for them.
  2. Develop a strong resume, and several different versions of it depending on the types of companies you want to talk to. Have it critiqued by a career counselor, who you can also practice your 30-second pitch on.
  3. Prepare your “30-second pitch”, which should introduce your name and year, along with the your interest and qualification to work with the company. This means knowing how to highlight your strengths and backing them up with examples. Remember, this “pitch” is used to get the conversation started, so don’t stress about memorizing it verbatim or covering your entire career trajectory. You should also prepare questions you want to ask the recruiter, which will demonstrate that you have done your research already.
  4. Logistics: You’ll want to bring a sturdy folder or portfolio folder to carry your resumes in, a pen to write with, and a bag for company swag you might pick up. Plan and wear your outfit ahead of time to make sure it is comfortable to move in, and try not to break in new shoes. Wear business casual attire (ex: suit, nice shirt & tie, blouse & skirt).

Tip: Rank what companies are high-priority for you. Go talk to your low-priority companies first so you can warm up and practice before you approach the companies you most want to work for.

What to Bring

  • Copies of your resume.
  • A padfolio with a notepad and pen to take notes.

What to Wear

Consider the career fair you are attending, and ask a UVA Career Services staff member for advice if you are unclear. It is always best to appear as professional as possible as this is the first impression you are making on an employer. Wearing a suit or business casual attire (nice shirt and tie, or blouse and pants or skirt) can both be appropriate in different scenarios.

Wear a name tag if possible (you can often get these when signing in at the fair registration table). The employers will be meeting many students, and this helps them remember who you are.

Read more about Professional Appearance in the Interview section. 

Navigation During the Fair

Head to the registration table to receive a career fair map and write a nametag (include name, year, major). When approaching a recruiter, you want to make a good first impression by using your non-verbal and verbal communication skills.

Non-Verbal Communication      

  • Eye contact: Should be open and direct when listening, asking, and responding to questions. Eye contact is usually broken when concentrating or reflecting on what you want to say or what has been said.
  • Facial expression: Conveys sincerity, can add to or detract from your words. Don’t be afraid to smile!
  • Voice tone: Should be firm, warm, and relaxed.
  • Timing: It is alright to pause before and while you are answering a question.
  • Hands: Should be used in a relaxed way for animation, communicating excitement, interest.
  • Handshake: Make sure to give a strong, firm handshake when meeting your interviewers. But remember to not squeeze their hand... it is not a strength competition.
  • Posture: Should be well-balanced, upright, relaxed, forward-facing, and open. Know your nervous habits and practice controlling them. Leaning forward slightly can help communicate interest.

Verbal Communication

  • As you shake their hand, begin to introduce yourself with your 30-second pitch. Be articulate and confident.
  • Engage in the conversation by responding to their questions concisely, then asking your prepared questions
  • Offer your resume when it feels appropriate. Be aware that some recruiters are not permitted by their company to accept them and may direct you to submitting online.
  • As you wrap up the conversation, thank the employer for their time and ask what the next step is. Don’t monopolize time as other students are waiting.

Sample Questions to Ask Employers

For more details and ideas, check out the Questions You Can Ask Employers page.

  • What kinds of entry-level positions exist within your company?
  • Does your company hire on a continual basis or just at certain times of the year? 
  • How long does the hiring process take?
  • What qualities does your company look for in an employee?
  • What courses do you suggest in order to be a successful candidate?
  • What opportunities are there for advancement in the company?
  • For how many years does the entry-level employee typically stay with the company?
  • How many new employees (or interns) is your company looking to hire?
  • What makes your company unique compared to other companies in this field?
  • What would you expect your ideal hire to do during the first month with the company?

Also check out the Sample Interview Questions for ideas on what they may ask you.

Sample Questions to Ask Graduate School Recruiters

  • How many students are in the department?  How many professors are in the department?
  • What courses/prerequisites should I take in order to be better prepared for graduate school?
  • What is the GPA cut off for the department?
  • What graduate admission’s test is required for the program?
  • What is unique about your school and program?
  • What types of assistantships and financial aid are available?
  • Is there department support for job searching after graduate school?

After the Fair

Send a thank-you letter (typed, e-mail, or handwritten are all appropriate) within 1-3 days of the fair. You can send an initial or additional resume in your thank-you letter and again remind the employer of your strengths and interest. Remember to include in the email your name, school, date of meeting, and a personal touch (ex: remind them of something specific from your conversation). 

Check out How to Write Thank You Letters page with examples.