A job seeker needs to use every tool at their disposal to find their next role. In a crowded market, consider giving yourself an edge by attending a career fair. Career fairs, which can be both in-person or virtual events, offer the opportunity to explore new companies, learn about new openings, and meet great professionals to add to your network.

If you maximize your opportunity and prepare appropriately, you can walk away from a career fair with a host of job opportunities or new contacts. Be sure to put in the work beforehand to set yourself up for multiple avenues of success.

“Job fairs can feel lower in pressure than other job-seeking environments. As a result of the crowds, impressions are quick and conversations are fairly casual. As a result, some people feel more comfortable at a job fair compared to more one-on-one ways to job hunt and network.” –Indeed

Practice your elevator pitch

When you’ll be in a situation to talk to large groups of people in short bursts, there is no better tool in your arsenal than your personal elevator pitch. Being able to quickly summarize who you are, what you can do, and the value you bring to an organization will help you stand out, and the more you repeat your pitch, the better it will sound.

Check our above link for advice on perfecting your best pitch, but if you’re in doubt and need a fast idea, LinkedIn’s Chris Fitzpatrick suggests conducting a quick SWOT analysis. Thinking through your strengths and weaknesses, as well as potential opportunities and threats, will give you a better idea of what to include in your pitch and what to highlight.

Identify potential targets

You should keep an open mind when browsing a career fair. You’ll learn about new companies or roles you aren’t familiar with. But you still want to go in informed. Knowing who will be in attendance and what they seek will set you up to offer the value they need.

Intern Street says to start by looking to see what companies will be there (which should be on the event’s website) and choose the most relevant to prioritize. From there, do your research on that company, look at the immediate openings they have, and create thoughtful questions from there. The more prepared you appear, the more likely someone will remember you fondly and consider you in follow-ups.

“You can usually find a list of participating employers on the recruiting event website or request one from the fair host. If you’re attending a virtual career fair, a lot of useful introductory company information is in the recruiter profiles. Explore these resources to see open roles, company values, and any activities they’re planning for the job fair.” –Career Fair Plus

Bring anything you might need

With so much going through your mind, don’t forget to bring the physical items you’ll need. Even in a digital world, many career fairs are in-person events, especially those at universities or other community pillars. You don’t want to be caught off guard.

You want to make sure you have a pen and something to write on, ideally something professional-looking. But don’t stop there—bring copies of your resume (more than you think you’ll need) and business cards. Mac’s List’s Matt Beckwith says that while many companies in attendance will let you email a resume later or will prefer you fill out an online application, it’s always a good look to have a physical resume to offer. Some sort of bag or purse to store any materials you receive will also come in handy.

Be prepared for a spontaneous interview

All of your prior planning will set you up for early success, but stay on your toes in case an interviewer wants to interview you on the spot or an unexpected player wants to talk with you. You can’t prepare for every possibility, but being adaptable is the key for a savvy job seeker.

Matt Beckwith says to make sure you respect everyone’s time. With a career fair, there will be dozens of other job seekers looking to talk with the attendees. So even if you’re invited for a quick interview, make sure to hit the important points quickly. Indeed says that because career fairs are often dedicated to entry-level roles, focus on what the employer is looking for. Highlight your soft skills and what you’re seeking from a role, and only focus on your most applicable experiences.

Wrap up

A career fair might offer unexpected opportunities, but even so, the more preparation you do before the event, the more you’ll get from the fair. Getting into the right headspace, knowing what you’re looking for, and having everything you need will prepare you for any spontaneous activity or unexpected chances. With preparation, you can walk away from the career fair with a lot to show for it!

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