Getting the Most from Career Fairs… Without Squishy Balls

Editor’s Note: In support of tonights #InternPro chat, titled “Is it Time to Kill the Career Fair”, we’re pleased to present this encore post from recruiter extraordinaire, Steve Levy. Join us at 9pm ET tonight for #InternPro!

Everyone tells you that an internship is almost better than the degree ( everyone… with the probable exception of your parents or professors).

For many who aspire to great heights, the search for an internship begins at the career fair – also known as the place where companies advertise how great they are by giving away squishy balls, thumb drives, and multi-LED pens.

Truth be told: career fair giveaways are the like red hind-quarters of female baboons used to attract males during mating; companies lure you to their table with cheap pieces of corporate swag. And many intern seekers flock to these tchotchkes, stuffing as many of these as they can into one of the company’s equally cheap giveaway bags… and leave without the promise of an interview.

It’s time to plan and execute a better career fair strategy.

Warning: this is quite a bit of work, and a relatively long read, but would you rather have that great internship – or another crappy summer or part-time job that requires exceptional written creativity to make it sound good on your resume?

Step One: Get a List of Companies Exhibiting at the Career Fair

Mistake #1 is discounting any company because (a) you don’t recognize its name or (b) it’s not a “big name” company.  While you may only have eyes for Google, Facebook, Microsoft, or Goldman Sachs, you might just find a more professionally and personally lucrative opportunity at a lesser known company.

So put away this “label snootiness” for just one career fair and see what I mean…

Create a binder for every company attending the career fair that includes:

  1. From Yahoo Finance, each company’s main page… example [special notice should be given to the “Headlines” section, and on the left side, the links for “Competitors” and “Analyst Opinion”];
  2. From LinkedIn, each company’s LinkedIn page including the names and titles of the most recent employees… example;
  3. From each company’s career page, the list of all job openings in your area of interest;
  4. From Bing-vs-Google, a news search… example; and even from…
  5. Searching the Internet for the phrase, “[Insert company name] sucks” (okay, perhaps this is a little harsh but how about heading over to or to to’s Forum and searching for each of the companies?

For those companies who possess a social media footprint, also identify and print out:

  1. The first page of their Tweets (search for “twitter [company name]”)
  2. Their main Facebook page (or pages)
  3. The first page of their official blog (if they even have one; alternatively, you can conduct a Google blog search with the phrase, “I work at [company name]”)

Now go through the opportunities available – and highlight the ones you might aspire to have one day.

The basis for questions you ask of a company representative during a career fair is understanding how the company believes you can transition from being an intern – to doing well in the highlighted job. Always ask about career paths even as an intern – it demonstrates to you that the company has thought out these things…or not.

One more tip: If the company Tweets, Facebooks (not that this is a real verb), or blogs, why not interact before the career fair?

Let “them” know, you’ll be there. In a unique way that creates a good first impression, tell them something professionally descriptive about you, and that you are looking forward to meeting them. Here’s an example for Twitter:

“@Company PR #intern candidate here: seeing u tomorrow at the career fair–I’ll be wearing blue suit, red tie, smile”

Perhaps consider asking them if you can send over your resume or even speak with them – before the fair.

Step Two: Obtain the Names of the People Who Will  Represent These Companies

These days, most companies who attend job fairs have to let career services know ahead of time the names of the company representatives who will be participating. If not, there is a way to identify who you will be seeing…

It’s using the power of the telephone (gasp).

Call the company, ask for the head of college recruiting, and ask them the names of the people who will be attending. Let them know the reason you want to know who will be attending: To do your homework. Never forget the power of please and thank you. Okay, perhaps some groveling might be in order…but it’s for a good cause.

With the names in hand, flock over to LinkedIn and look up the profile of each person attending – and add these to the binder you’ve created for the companies. Note their interests, associations, former employers, blogs, Twitter handles, etc. of these people.

Naturally, there will be times that you simply cannot obtain the names of the people who will be in attendance. Even the best recruiters are faced with the prospect of calling in blindly to a company and hope their charm, charisma, and training can lead them to the right person. Fear shouldn’t be the deciding factor that determines success or failure. At least you’ve done your homework on the company; this will certainly separate you from your competition.

Incidentally, if you want to go the extra mile on the company representatives, surf over to (“people dot com”), and play a bit. You might find some extra interesting factoids here (it’s called “deep web searching”, a favorite technique of the very best recruiters). Of course, some might call it “stalking” (you say “toe-may-toe” I say “toe-mah-toe”) but I call it “advanced research.”

Step 3: Putting the Binder Together

“Levy… This is quite a bit of work…”

Sure the heck is.

Let me ask you a question: When one of your classmates goes the extra mile and turns in a project that is worthy of a Ph.D. dissertation, what is the first thing you say to yourself (after thinking, “Brown noser!”)?

Yep… ”I wish I had done that.” Consider this your chance to separate yourself from the pack; this is your antidote to the I don’t give a sh*t disease.

Now that you’ve accumulated, categorized, and summarized – review the binder (and not at the last minute). I’m certain that from your research, you’ll “see” new companies that have piqued your interest – maybe based upon the profiles of the people who will be representing the company at your school. Whereas some might very well “suck”, other companies might very well be places where superstars are born.

Bottom-line here is that with this Ph.D. approach, you’ve done your homework whereas most people who attend career fairs are flying blind. They’re the ones whose attention is drawn to sharp looking corporate swag bags; colorful thumb drives; stress balls shaped liked company logos or products that have nothing to do with the company’s brand; and pens that light up but break in two weeks.

But when you approach a company and their representatives at a career fair – and you display your prepared binder in a confident manner to show how much homework you’ve done – you’ll be able to say, “Steve, I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that were an engineer but somewhere during your early career years you moved into Human Resources and Recruiting. How did you come to make this transition?”

Even more, you’ll know that I’m hiring experienced systems engineers around the country and you’ll be able to ask me, “What specific projects are systems engineers working on? We don’t have a ‘Systems Engineering’ major here but it sure seems as if Systems Engineers are simply great all-around engineers.”

And so your career fair experience becomes an intelligent conversation that you partially control with the information you’ve gathered. I can guarantee you that my fellow recruiters will be bowled over if you come the career fair ready to rumble rather than ready to stockpile your desk with squishy balls, thumb drives, and light-up pens.


About the Author: Steve Levy is focused on recruiting, career counseling, social media, and organizational development consulting – and has been referred to as “the recruiting industry’s answer to Tom Peters”. Steve is an incurable blogger ( and among many others) and social media participant who is passionate about veteran issues. Steve has been a COI with Armed Forces recruiting for many years, a Navy volunteer “fitness consultant”; his family has a storied history of service to our country.

Steve is a Tau Beta Pi engineer from the University of Vermont (there is no such thing as a former Engineer, Marine or Jesuit) with his graduate degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Hofstra University. Follow Steve on Twitter!



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