Career fairs (sometimes called job fairs or career expos) are events for employers, recruiters and schools to meet with prospective job seekers. If you've never been to one, or it's been a while since you've attended, it may be time to explore how these career fairs will add value to your job search campaign! At a career fair, you have the opportunity to meet dozens — sometimes hundreds — of companies who are looking for candidates.
While most career fairs are free to attend (especially those sponsored by colleges), most prefer that you resister in advance. In addition to employers, there will likely be vendors providing food or services like resume duplication and professional development and educational organizations in attendance.
Professional career fairs: These are often presented by career services or recruiting organizations and can feature a broad range of companies. Some fairs are specialized and target a particular field or industry (e.g., accounting, technology, engineering) while others will feature a diverse mix of industries. If you are established in your career and looking for a new opportunity, you will likely have an opportunity to learn more about a full range of positions with companies in your field.
University job fairs: Generally, university career centers sponsor 1-3 career fairs per year to provide their students with the chance to meet and interview with companies in search of entry-level candidates. These are a great choice if you're just starting out in your career or making a change to a new industry. If you are seeking an experienced or management-level role, this may not be the best option for your job search as most recruiters and hiring managers come to a college job fair to screen for entry-level positions.
Diversity job fairs: While all employers are required to adhere to equal employment laws when hiring, some employers seek to recruit targeted segments to increase workforce diversity, adhere to affirmative action requirements, or expand resources in key demographic markets. Diversity job fairs help employers meet these unique goals while (generally) still being open to all candidates.
Virtual / online career fairs: A rapidly emerging trend, online career fairs bring employers and candidates together in specialized online forums that generally allow document sharing (for resumes), live chat (for interviewing), and access to additional online resources.
Typically, a company has paid to register a booth for the fair; combined with paying employees to host the tables and the costs associated with printing informational materials such as brochures or flyers, the company has a vested interest in making sure the day is productive. As for recruiters, they are expecting to end the day with a list of quality candidates to recommend to hiring managers. This means that they are expecting to talk to hundreds, possibly thousands, of people over the course of the day; however, when a quality candidate catches their eye, they are going to take a little extra time to assess that person.
This means that you have the chance to make an impression, both in person and with your resume, build rapport with the interview, and learn more about the company.
A common misconception about career fairs is that companies send hiring managers or that companies will be hiring on the spot, but this is rarely the case. The person at the company's table is more likely an HR Recruiter. Recruiters screen candidates for a living and it is their job to recommend quality candidates to the hiring manager (which allows the hiring manager to spend less time interviewing prospective employees).
This means the individual at the table must be very selective and will have a primary goal of screening candidates out. He or she is looking for a range of screen-out factors: an unfocused resume, sloppy dress, lack of confidence in the interview — any of these can be as problematic as lack of experience or education. And with hundreds or thousands of job seekers at a career fair, a Recruiter can afford to be selective.