7 Tips For Career Fair Success (ISU Style)


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I recently completed my first year at Iowa State University, where I experienced more success than I ever could have hoped for. Throughout the year doors were opened up that I never saw possible when I arrived that first rainy day on campus. However, this post will be centered around one particular (AND VERY IMPORTANT) aspect of your first year at any big university…or any school that has a career/job/opportunity fair available to you. And, that aspect is getting noticed at the career fair!

Now, to many freshman on campus the career fair is not a priority and many avoid it simply because it seems too daunting, pointless, or just not worth it; however, none of this is true at all. The career fair is a gateway into big-name, brand-name companies, and even more so, it is the portal to a career during and after college…but, you must take the initiative to get your name out there. Recruiters are there to categorize students, many will not even talk to you, and others will politely talk to you, take your resume, and then promptly recycle it as you walk away. You cannot take it personally if a recruiter does not like you or says you must be older before seriously considering their company. THIS IS NORMAL. Do not get discouraged, talk to as many companies as possible! The only way you will get an interview, offer, or call-back is if you take the first step of talking to the recruiters.

TIP #1:

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have…if you look less dressy than the recruiters you have done something wrong. 

Now, this does not mean that you have to show up to the career fair in a three-piece suit; however, it does mean you need to wear professional, business clothing that you feel confident in. Remember, the first impression is the most important; within 5 seconds almost all the recruiters have already decided if your resume will go in the recycle bin. Do not be one of those people! An example of one outfit I have worn to a career fair is shown below:


In my opinion, going with dress pants (pleaded in the front), a slim fitting dress shirt, casual jacket (navy or brown), and dress shoes is the way to go.

TIP #2:

Bring a professional looking portfolio…even more so, bring one with your college logo on it.

Here is what you should absolutely put in your portfolio before attending the career fair:

  • 10…20…50 copies of your resume. (depending on how many companies you want to talk to!)
  • A map of the career fair showing which companies are at which booth (Iowa State had hundreds of companies at the Business career fair alone)
  • Information snippets on the companies you planned on visiting before hand
    • The week leading up to the career fair you should do research on at least five companies and type up a paragraph that includes their mission statement, company objectives, and recent news. Recruiters love when your elevator pitch is centered around what their company believes in (if you do not share the company’s objective you probably should not talk to them). Furthermore, if a company just made a major purchase of another company (or some other important news) you should try and insert this into your discussion with the recruiter.
  • A sheet of generic questions you can ask. When you are concluding your conversation with the recruiter they will 100% ask some version of the following: “Do you have any questions for me, or about the company?” Yes, yes you do have questions. As a last ditch effort, you can sneak a look inside your portfolio if you cannot think of any.
  • Finally, leave some room for documents the company representatives will give you. By the end of the career fair you should have business cards and other material from every rep. that you talked to. These business cards will come in very handy for those follow up emails you are going to send.

Below is an example of the portfolio I used at my business career fair:


TIP #3:

Make your own unique name tag (if your college does not provide them for you)

I suggest the following when dealing with name tags:

  • Do not wear your name tag on a lanyard, instead use adhesive and put it on the left side of your jacket or shirt right above your heart. This looks much more professional and I have found it pretty standard in the business world. It seems at every networking event persons wear adhesive name tags on the left side.
  • When making a name tag make sure to include not only your first and last name, but your major and graduation year as well. These are three pieces of information that recruiters absolutely use to determine where you are at with your education. Obviously, do not lie, put your correct graduation year…recruiters will find out (based on your resume) what step you’re in at university.
  • Write legibly…and if you cannot, get someone to do it for you, or type it. At Iowa State, the college provides name tags if you go to career services (these are typed and look much more professional than hand-written ones).

An example (typed) name tag is shown below:

name tag

TIP #4:

Produce a rocking elevator pitch

Write and rehearse a decent elevator pitch. The jist of it is: Give the recruiter a detailed snapshot of yourself in the most direct and shortest manner possible. This is the point where you have to differentiate yourself from other students; recruiters may listen to thousands of students in one day, you have to stick out in order to get anywhere.

A great resource on writing elevator pitches can be found here.

In a way this is the second “first” impression you will make at the career fair. If you are professionally dressed, and deliver a killer elevator pitch, you are already doing better than most students. After your elevator pitch, try to find a groove with the recruiter and get talking about the company, their lives, and your future goals. Most recruiters are past alumni or very young full-time employees of the company…most of them love hearing about current students future goals.

TIP #5:

Picking which recruiter you speak to.

If a company has a large booth, they will also have multiple recruiters. In addition, if a company is popular (such as John Deere) there will also be long lines. Here is what you will want to do: Start by picking the recruiter at the booth that is the least busy, the less students the recruiter has talked to the better. In addition, if you are not comfortable speaking to an intimidating recruiter then don’t! Wait for a window with a different recruiter; if you cannot have a confident conversation you will certainly not make it much further than the recycle bin. Confidence is key!

TIP #6:

Build a resume centered around yourself…this includes skills, work experience, and education. 

My resume was not the best when I attended the career fair, but it got the job done. As many career fairs take place near the beginning of the semester, you may not have had time yet to accomplish any college “stuff” to put on your resume; this situation can be a bit awkward as many high school teachers will tell you to leave high school activities off your resume as you are in college now. I have to disagree, if you accomplished things in high school that you feel are worthy of representing your now college-self put them on your resume; but, make sure to update it in the future.

An example of the resume I used is below:

Joseph P. Stammeyer Resume (ISU) Blog

***Notice the portions that are circled in red. This information is vital. Recruiters must know how to contact you, in addition they also like to know how far along you are in your degree, simply saying you are a freshman is not enough. Make sure to indicate which classes in your major-area you have taken in addition to your anticipated graduation date.

TIP #7:

The little things…be well groomed, showered, firm hand shake, and eye contact. 

It should go without saying that you should shower, shave, and have clean hair before attending the career fair. You will be in very close proximity, talking to recruiters who could be the first step in landing you an internship, co-op, or job. Do not ruin this chance by simply not taking care of yourself.

Practice your handshake before attending the fair. A weak hand shake is a blatant sign of lacking in confidence. The easiest way to practice is with a roommate or group of friends who will also be attending the career fair. It may seem silly sitting around practicing shaking hands; however, it contributes GREATLY to making a good first impression.

Finally, to wrap this post up, I want to talk about attentive listening skills and eye contact. This may be the most coveted soft skill in the entire business world. When the recruiter is sharing information with you, your eyes should not be above their head, on the ground, in your portfolio, or on other students/recruiters. Maintain eye contact and nod your head every now and then to indicate you are listening AND absorbing the information the recruiter is giving you.

Thank you for reading through, if you have any addition questions feel free to comment or reach out.

***Icon in Featured Image made by Freepik on flaticon.com

***Creative commons license the above mentioned is under

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