Career Fair Prep: 3 Ways to Boost Your Confidence

We’re entering the season for career fairs. A season that for many students comes with a mix of excitement and nervousness. To help boost your confidence, today I’m focusing on three things you can do to prepare.

Woman having video meeting with 3 individuals on the screen
Photo by Anna Shvets

Before we get to that, let’s start with what a career fair is.  A career fair is a recruiting event where representatives from organizations and individuals (in this case students) meet each other, have conversations, learn about the organization or candidate, and potentially discuss internship and/or job opportunities. Organizations come for a variety of reasons including, but not limited to: 

  • Raising awareness of their brand to students and the university
  • Connecting with talent early (in their university career or in their academic year)
  • Interacting with candidates they might not see through other recruitment channels
  • Hiring 

With this information, here are three ways to prepare for career fairs and boost your confidence. 

  1. Acknowledge your expectations
  2. Review the list of attending organizations and conduct research
  3. Be prepared to introduce yourself

Acknowledge your expectations

As you prepare for career fairs, acknowledge your expectations. Do you expect to get a job or internship within two weeks? Do you expect to have a good conversation? Do you expect to have more data that informs your decisions? Be honest with yourself about what you expect from attending a career fair. Consider even writing down what your expectations are. After you do this, here are some steps that might help you decide if you need to adjust your expectations.

  • Fully review the materials about the fair you’ve register for. These details typically help you understand what may be expected. Is the career fair for particular groups of students? Will specific types of companies be there? Have the companies provided information on whether if they are hiring from the fair?
  • Look for any information from your school or program about how students find their internships and jobs. This is often information gathered in graduating student surveys. For example, the majority of Engineering Master’s students find their full-time roles through connections they made before coming to Duke, or since coming to Duke. A career fair being the source for a full-time role in this population is rare.
  • Are the expectations you wrote down realistic, or do they represent what you hope will happen? If they are your hopes, can you make a separate expectation version? An example, if your expectation is to get an internship from the career fair, perhaps you edit to “connect with 2 organizations I’m curious about and establish a contact there.”

Review the list of attending organizations and do some research on those of interest

One of the greatest ways you can stand out at a career fair is research! Put yourself in the organization representative’s position. You are excited to meet students and interact with 75 students during the day. All but 10 of those students ask questions that could easily be found by doing a Google search on the company. Who are you going to remember? The 10 who asked good questions reflecting research they had done. Here are some steps you can take. 

  • Review the list of attending organizations in advance and make a list of those that are of interest to you. If you’ve already created a target list for your job or internship search, you can compare your target list with who will be present at the career fair. 
  • At the bare minimum, review their website and open opportunities they may have in Handshake. Enhance this research by looking at recent news articles, learning more about their products and services, and reviewing their mission or vision.
  • When reviewing internship or job opportunities, note what skills or experiences they are seeking.
  • As you do your research, note things that peak your curiosity and you want to learn more about. Use these in creating the questions you’ll ask. You can use this section of the Duke Career Hub for help on how to ask questions to connect and learn. 

Be prepared to introduce yourself

Hi! With career fairs, get ready to introduce yourself multiple times. Your introduction is an opportunity to make a positive impression and begin a conversation. Here are a few steps you can take to prepare your introduction.

  • Review what you learned in your research of the organization. What about your experience, skills, or overall profile may be of interest to this organization? Try to identify 1-3 you may want to build into your introduction that show your alignment.
  • Remember these organization representatives may be hearing introductions from 50+ people. What do you want to include in yours that will help you be memorable (in a good way)? Check out the Talk to People section of the Duke Career Hub, especially the portion on Introducing Yourself. 
  • Take a look at this past blog post about introducing yourself virtually. It has a great strategy of building several introductions prior to the start of a virtual career fair so you can easily cut and paste your intros.
  • Make it a conversation by closing your introduction with a question. Again, this section of the Duke Career Hub is great for creating better questions. 

I hope you’ll go into the upcoming career fairs with a boost in your confidence. If you want more information, view the Duke Career Center Career Fair prep guide. Look for our next post to feature how to engage at virtual events! Remember to check Handshake for more information on upcoming fairs. 

By Jenny Johnson (she/her)
Jenny Johnson (she/her) Assistant Director, Engineering Master's Career Services & Professional Development