A career fair can be the portal to your first or next great job. But many job seekers attend career fairs with no clear strategy or sense of the impression they’re making on employers. If this is you at your next career fair, you may end up wasting your time or missing a great opportunity. To get a more favorable result from these networking events, know that success begins with one simple thing: your body language.

Job Hunting Reversed

Good body language is key at a career fair because these networking events reverse the order of a regular job application. When you apply to jobs online, typically, you must first submit your resume in hopes that employers will later meet with you in person. But when you attend a career fair, you must first meet with employers in person in hopes that they’ll later review your resume.

In either scenario, what matters most is your first impression. You may not get a chance to make a second one. If a recruiter’s first impression of you is an off-putting resume, they’ll likely never agree to meet with you (regardless of how well you’d interview for the position). By contrast, if their first impression of you is an off-putting demeanor at the job fair, they’ll likely never look at your resume (regardless of how well it showcases your background). As such, whenever you attend a career fair, you must stay extra-mindful of your manners and body language.

Nine Tips for Great Body Language at a Career Fair

  • Smile.
  • Have a firm handshake.
  • Make frequent eye contact. (When you look down while talking, you can appear insincere. When you look up, you can come off as distracted.)
  • Keep an open posture. Don’t cross your arms.
  • Stand or sit upright. Don’t slouch. (The quickest way to good posture: Imagine a thread extends from the center of your chest and is tugging you up at a 45-degree angle.)
  • Don’t chew gum.
  • Don’t fidget. Avoid touching your hair or face unnecessarily.
  • Don’t check, answer, or use your phone unless you are getting the person’s contact information.
  • Don’t scuff your feet when you walk.

It is a challenge to remain aware of all of these things at all times. Don’t aim for perfection but refer back to these tips whenever you’re about to walk into a career fair. (Consider jotting them down or copying them into your phone notes app for easy reference.) That way, they’ll be top of mind as you approach the booths that interest you and meet with different recruiters.

When you’re more conscious of using good body language, you can be less self-conscious about how you’re coming off to potential employers. That frees your mind to focus better on the substance of your interactions and where they might lead next. As you’ll find, body language is a simple set of behaviors that can make a huge difference in your career fair prospects.

More Tips for Career Fair Success

Good body language is the foundation for success at a career fair, but it’s far from the only thing you should know. Consider these additional tips:

During Conversation

  • Speak clearly and avoid over-using “like” and “you know.”
  • Use active listening. With this method, you simply (and briefly) paraphrase a recruiter’s answers back to them to show you’ve heard and registered what they said. Active listening makes for a more personable interaction. It’s also a simple courtesy to someone speaking with you in a loud setting like a career fair, where people sometimes only pretend to hear each other exactly.
  • Any question you ask a recruiter (or anyone else) boils down to a Who, What, When, Where, Why, or How. Know that those last two (“Why” and “How”) are the fuel for interesting conversations, while the other four usually provide facts and context. For example, you can ask a recruiter what products their company makes and where they’re based. But when they answer plainly (“We make lawn and deck furniture, and other outdoor equipment. We’re based in Arizona, California, and Nevada.”), you may feel like the conversation is at a dead end. A far more interesting way to learn more from and engage with the recruiter is to ask them how the company has grown or evolved or why it’s been successful in its market.
  • When closing out a promising recruiter interaction, try clarifying the next steps. If they give you their business card, tell them you’ll follow up by phone or email in the next couple of business days (and then do exactly that).

Before the Event

  • Dress professionally. Conservative “business casual” is often the best choice.
  • Pack plenty of copies of your latest resume.
  • Do your research. Try to get the names of the various companies and organizations participating. Identify the ones that interest you most and write down a few questions you’d like to ask about each.
  • Keep in mind that career breakthroughs often come from unexpected places—plan to engage and network with other job seekers, not just recruiters. No matter how promising the fair’s companies seem to you, your big break could always come from a fellow attendee.
  • Last but not least, clarify your job search goals upfront. Write down and bring notes on your target job title, duties, industry, company size, and location. You may be unsure of some or most of these areas if you’re still in school. That’s fine. Still, write down your thoughts on your career direction, and you’ll be better able to identify opportunities and get the most value out of each career fair you attend.

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Jacob Meade

Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW, ACRW)

Jacob Meade is a resume writer and editor with nearly a decade of experience. His writing method centers on understanding and then expressing each person’s unique work history and strengths toward their career goal. Jacob has enjoyed working with jobseekers of all ages and career levels, finding that a clear and focused resume can help people from any walk of life. He is an Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW) with the Resume Writing Academy, and a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with the Professional Association of Resume Writers & Career Coaches.

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