Career fairs are very popular at US colleges with over 90% of schools hosting at least one per year. College career fairs may be a new concept for you as an international student. Maybe you have heard of them but never attended one. Maybe you are interested but unsure what to expect. This blog covers everything you need to know to prepare for a college career fair and get the most out of it.
What is a career fair?
A career fair is an event hosted by a college or university where various organizations and businesses send representatives to the school to recruit potential new interns and employees. You can find internships and post-graduation employment opportunities at college career fairs, so they are valuable no matter what year of study you are in. Some career fairs may be virtual and feature employers from around the country. In-person career fairs tend to have a lot of local employers and businesses represented.
Career fairs are free and open to all students. Schools will usually have one big, general career fair each year, while some schools will have smaller fairs tailored to specific groups such as undergraduate students or STEM majors. For example, Caltech is hosting a Careers in Hardware, Electronics, Aerospace, and Robotics (HEAR) Fair this year, and Pace University has an annual international student career fair each spring.
It’s very common for colleges and universities to host a big career fair at the beginning of the school year in September or October and smaller ones throughout the year. For students who will be graduating soon, consider attending a “Just in Time” career fair. Many colleges offer these annually, usually in the spring, and they are specifically for companies looking to fill positions immediately.
Why are career fairs important for international students?
The US job market has a strong networking culture. We have a saying here that when job searching, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” that matters most. Research shows that up to 80% of people in the US get their jobs through connections or referrals. Therefore, as an international student, it’s important to make connections with potential employers. The average college career fair has 208 different employers in attendance, so they are a great place to network.
Career readiness starts from day 1, not just your final year or semester. There’s often more pressure to find career opportunities because you will need visa sponsorship to remain in the US after graduation or OPT. Recruiters at career fairs may be looking to fill positions locally, nationally, or in other countries. So, whether your goal is to remain in the US after graduation or not, you may find potential leads at a career fair.
Even if you aren’t ready to start applying for jobs or internships, a career fair is still valuable. You can:
- Practice your professional communication skills in person
- Make professional connections to grow your American network
- Meet and network with alumni
How to prepare for a career fair
Career fair recruiting leads to real job offers and should be taken seriously. Here are the most effective ways to prepare for a college career fair.
1. Visit your school’s career services center. They can provide information on when and where career fairs will take place. They can also help with resume writing, practicing what you will say to recruiters, and more.
2. Understand your purpose. The way you prepare for a career fair will vary based on your purpose for attending. Are you a first-year student just exploring future possibilities or a graduating senior looking to get hired soon? Keep your focus on your goal.
3. Do research on jobs and employers in your field. Most colleges post a list of what companies will be attending the career fair. Take time to research the companies and what types of jobs they have available.
4. Write and proofread your resume. Reach out to a friend or your career advisor to review and edit your resume. Then, print multiple copies to hand out at the fair.
5. Compile a list of which employers you want to speak to at the career fair and what questions you could ask them. Asking questions is a great way to show recruiters that you are proactive and assess whether a company may be a good fit for you. Possible questions to ask include:
- What does your company look for in an ideal candidate?
- What skills are you looking for and what would make my application stand out?
- What is your company’s hiring process like?
- Are you hiring for full-time jobs for after graduation?
- What other jobs do you have at the company in this field?
- How long have you worked at the company?
What to do during a career fair
First impressions matter, so show up as your best self at the career fair. Career fair recruiters may ask you questions about yourself, your studies, your long-term goals, and your availability. Be prepared to answer honestly and confidently.
|Dress professionally||Don’t wear anything flashy or political|
|Introduce yourself with a handshake and eye contact||Don’t meet recruiters with a friend or in a group; one-on-one is best|
|Ask for business cards/contact information||Don’t ask to get hired on the spot|
|Answer questions about your visa status honestly||Don’t be afraid to ask if they hire international students|
|Be conscious of timing if there is a line behind you||Don’t forget to give recruiters your resume|
What to do after a career fair
Official interviews and job offers do not happen at college career fairs. These steps come later. That’s why it’s essential to continue communication with the representatives you meet at the career fair.
- Send recruiters a follow-up email a day or two after the event thanking them for speaking with you and referencing something specific from your interaction.
- Add recruiters on LinkedIn, and make sure to keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date.
- Let recruiters know when you have sent in your applications for the positions.
- If you want to learn more about a company or occupation, you can request an informational interview with a recruiter or one of their colleagues who is in a position you are interested in or is an alumnus from your school.
- The interactions at the career fair will be brief. An informational interview allows you to talk to a representative more in-depth.
- Send a short email to request the interview with a reminder of who you are and how you met.
Wrap-up on career fairs
Career fairs are a common event at most US colleges and universities, and they are free and open for international students to attend. Whether you are looking for an internship, a job after graduation, or simply starting to build your professional network in a new country, you should attend a college career fair. With the right career fair preparation, you can make connections that could eventually lead to your first job or permanent employment in the US.