Interview Tips for a Career Fair

I often get asked about Career Fairs and interview tips to use in that environment.

Let’s talk about my direct experience both structuring and having my team run career fairs.

We’ve used 2 primary types over the years – “Open House” career fairs at the office, where we advertise and have hundreds of candidates show up and do on-site interviews, and then participation in Career Fairs at hotels or convention centers where multiple companies are present.

Since Career Fairs at central locations are more common, let’s talk about what is important when attending these seeking a new job at one of the numerous companies present. My companies approach these as follows:

  • We send one HR representative and 1-2 junior hiring managers to “man the booth”.
  • Their job is to assess job seekers that come to our booth interested in our company and open positions.
  • When they engage with candidates that stop by, they try and spend 5-10 minutes with each candidate
  • The outcome of this quick meeting is a mark on their resume to “follow-up with candidate for an onsite interview” or “pass on the candidate”.
  • We’ve also used a scoring system of 1-10, with 10 being “strong, bring in” and “1” being not seen as a fit.

Now, as you can tell this is intense – you have 10min to impress either the HR rep or one of the hiring managers enough to get a call within 1-2 days to come into an interview. So what do we look for? What interview questions and answers are important in this brief meeting to enable you to get selected for an interview?

Here are some key items that we use and train our representatives on for the career fair – if you understand and adhere to these you will dramatically increase your chances of getting the secret mark for a follow-up “real” interview in our offices:

  1. Neat, professional appearance – either a suit or dressy business clothes – it shows us you’re serious about a new position and shows respect for the time we’re taking out of running the company to talk to you.
  2. Some level of research done ahead of time – you should know what our company does – key products and services, and ideally what functions exist in the local office [i.e. not all products/services may be provided out of each geographical office location].
  3. We often have open positions posted on our company site ahead of time, so candidates that have reviewed these and know what openings exist and how they are a match for them is an excellent advantage to have.
  4. Passion and energy – I cannot emphasize this enough. We will look at your resume for the basic qualifications, but the human interaction is key. We want to see energy and passion around our company and the business we’re in. Low key individuals give across the impression of simply dropping resumes off at hundreds of booths in the hope that one will stick. This quickly gets your resume put into the “no follow-up” pile.
  5. Of course a resume – always have a steady stack of resumes with you. This is one forum where it makes a different if your resume is on plain paper versus a nice heavy stock, off-white color. Since we have to take these stacks back to the office and go through our notes, this document actually gets a lot of face time with managers ahead of getting a call.
    1. This is a bit different than submitting a resume via email or mail for a position – in these situations the resume is scanned into our system by an administrative assistant and managers never see the original.
  6. Ok – now this point is subtle – if we notice you’re hitting every booth around us prior to coming to ours, this will reflect negatively – again, it speaks to just doing a resume drop hoping for the best. Even if you want to talk to multiple companies around our booth, the best approach is to come from our booth from another area of the career fair, speak to us with passion and energy, and then walk out of sight to another part of the career fair – it looks to us like you were solely interested in our opportunity, and works to your advantage, even if you come back to a nearby booth in an hour or two.

Keep in mind that we are looking in a very quick scan for applicable experience on your resume. If we are hiring for a telephone based customer support position, we obviously look for a similar title or role on your resume in the initial scan. However, if you haven’t had that exact role before, but have been in customer facing roles, they be sure and highlight during the brief 5-10 minute conversation this experience and emphasize the importance of servicing customers.

For example – let’s say you’re very technical but have only worked retail positions – GREAT! Emphasize your technical skills briefly and then speak to how you were in a customer support position for your company and you feel you are good at understanding and addressing customer concerns to make sure they have a positive experience with that company and their products and services. This is a positive for this type of position, and if you do everything else above you will likely get selected for a follow-up interview at our offices!

I hope this helps – in a future post I will discuss what happens at office-based “open houses”, as these follow a completely different format.

One last note – most of the time [but not always], we will not make any hiring decisions on the spot – this is a screening event to speak to hundreds of people and identify the 10-20 that we rank the highest to they schedule followup “real” interviews with. Some companies do hire on the spot, but in our experience these have been for high volume, high turnover positions, so just be cautious on that front [a good question to ask if they say they are hiring on the spot is to ask what their turnover rate is after 6 months!]

I welcome your feedback and questions around career fairs or any of the topics I mention above – interviewing well in multiple environments is important, and hopefully understanding the behind the scenes approach we use is helpful to getting you into a real interview cycle!

To your success,

Russell Tuckerton

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