Career Center

Career Fair Prep Guide

How to plan your career fair experience—before, during, and after

What to expect from the career fair:

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  1. You can connect with employers and positions that match your interests beyond the information you can find online
  2. You have the opportunity to make a good impression with an employer in person
  3. Through these conversations, you should hope to increase your chances of an interview after the career fair
    Note: Companies will not interview you or offer you a position at the fair
  4. You should bring multiple copies of your resume to the fair, but you will often still need to apply online to opportunities you’re interested in
  5. You may have to wait patiently in a line to talk to particular employers
  6. If others are waiting to talk with an employer, you may only have a few minutes for your conversation
  7. You are in control of the conversation through describing how you overlap with the organization’s needs or asking thoughtful questions

Next steps:

Do your research

  • Look up the companies that will be at the career fair, the event information, and what jobs they have posted on CareerConnections
    Use Duke's Digital Career Fair Guide (http://career.dukechronicle.com) if it is a major fair at Duke.
    Note: Companies have specified if they hire graduate students and/or sponsor for visas
  • Learn more about the companies and jobs they typically offer
  • Create a strategy for the order in which you will visit employers
  • Write thoughtful questions for each employer

Prepare your resume

  • See the Career Center’s website for online guides to resume writing
  • Attend a Career Center resume workshop
  • Receive feedback on your resume at drop-in advising or resume labs—see CareerConnections for a calendar
  • Print copies of your resume on higher quality paper

Plan and practice your 30-second introduction

Communicate your value to a company after you have reflected on your strengths and the skills and interests that best match their needs.

Create business cards

While not required, business cards can be an easy
way to exchange contact information at career fairs,
conferences, networking events, or other social
situations. Plus, offering your business card can be a
good prompt for a recruiter to offer theirs in return.

Plan your attire

  • Gauge if the types of companies you will talk to would prefer not to see facial piercings or tattoos, and choose attire accordingly
  • Avoid using hygiene products with strong scents
  • Look at pictures from the company’s website and social media to see how employees dress
  • Match employee’s attire, and err on the side of dressing a little nicer if you are unsure
  • Make sure you feel confident and comfortable to be on your feet for a couple of hours
  • Wear your clothes a few days early if you are not accustomed to that type of attire
  • Guides for what to wear

Accommodations

If you need accommodations for a disability in order to
attend the Career Fair, navigate the space, or talk with
employers, contact the Student Disability Access Office
at least two business days in advance.

Freshen up

  • Grooming & hygiene: check that you look put-together and professional
  • Avoid strong fragrances as the American nose prefers a clean, neutral scent

Make sure you bring

  • Duke ID
  • Name tag (if you have one)
  • Proper attire (and a change of clothes if you don’t want to wear your career fair attire all day)
  • Nice folder, notebook or padfolio with a pad of paper and a pen
  • Business cards (if you have them)
  • List of companies you want to talk to, strategy for how to talk to them, and lists of questions to ask
  • Copies of your resume (one for each employer you would like to speak to plus a few extras)

Do not bring

Leave extra bags, backpacks, or coats at home or in your department. These items can be cumbersome, and there is no protected storage space at a career fair.

Check in

Grab a complimentary mint to freshen your breath and prevent dry mouth.

Get an overview

Walk around the fair to find your employers of interest and potentially learn information about employers you had not considered.

Review or adapt strategy and talk to recruiters

  • Revisit your strategy to see which employers you will visit first, and adapt as needed based on how long lines are or if you find new information
  • Firm handshake, make eye contact, smile and show enthusiasm, as your well-researched questions, take notes on their responses, offer your resume and/or business card
  • Ask for their business card for follow-up, and after talking to them write down specific details of the conversation on the back of their card
  • Get help at the Graduate Student Help Center to receive a tour of the fair, practice your introduction or questions, talk about how a conversation with an employer went, or ask any questions about the fair

Send thank you messages via email within 24 hours of the fair.

Career Fair Case 1

Maria, a graduate student, is interested in talking to a recruiter from Company X at the Career Fair. She knows the company hires PhDs from her program every year, and she has talked with these alumni about their good  experiences. She has practiced her introduction and feels ready, if a little nervous.

Maria approaches the recruiter for Company X, shakes hands, and introduces herself, “Hi. I’m Maria Suarez.”

The recruiter responds kindly, “Hi, Maria. I’m Jan Reedy. Nice to meet you. What’s your major?”

“I’m actually a graduate student,” Maria replies. “I’m in the PhD program in physics. In undergrad I majored in math and statistics,” she offers. Jan’s expression loses some of its warmth. “We’re not currently hiring grad students,” she says bluntly.

“Oh. I see,” says Maria, feeling embarrassed. “Okay, well, thank you for your time,” she manages to get out before quickly walking away.

Discussion questions

What did Maria do well?
Maria did her research on the company, including speaking to current employees. She also prepared well by practicing her introduction. Lastly, Maria was polite with the recruiter in the face of an unexpected and strange social situation.
What else could Maria have done in this situation to have a better outcome?
Maria could have asked for the contact information of others at the company for follow-up (e.g. “Do you have the contact information of someone at the company who I could talk to about careers for PhDs? It could be a recruiter or an employee with a PhD. I’d really like to learn more about their experiences and how they made the transition after graduate school).
Do you think the recruiter handled the interaction well? Why or why not?
It is not uncommon for a recruiter at a fair to be focusing on filling particular roles instead of all positions a company may hire for. In addition to being rather blunt, this recruiter was also misinformed about the position her company is hiring for. Even if this happens, it’s important to be respectful and make the most of the interaction.

Career Fair Case 2

Taylor is finishing degree this year, and she’s attending the Career Fair to find some job opportunities.
She’s interested in banking and finance, and she saw that a few firms would be at the fair.

Taylor waits in a 10-minute line to talk to the recruiter from a large firm, one of her top choices. She shakes the recruiter’s hand and says, “Hello. I’m Taylor Swan. I’ll soon receive my Master’s of economics, and I wanted to
learn more about your company.”

“That’s great,” replies the recruiter. “Hi, Taylor. I’m Vijay Srinivasan. What would you like to know about us?” His expression is friendly.

“What jobs do you currently have available?” asks Taylor.

Vijay looks a little impatient, but still responds pleasantly, “At the Master’s level, we mostly are looking for risk analysts and data scientists.”

“I did an internship last summer where I focused on assessing risk, so that sounds like a good match. What industries do you focus on?”

Vijay says, “Mostly insurance, healthcare, and a little in the life sciences.” He looks at the line of students behind Taylor. “Well, I have a few people waiting, so it was nice to meet you.”

As Vijay is turning away, Taylor asks, “Would you like a copy of my resume?”

Vijay quickly says, “We have an online application, and you can visit our website to submit your resume.”

Taylor walks away feeling okay about the interaction overall, but she is unsure of what she go out of the conversation. She wonders if this is all that’s supposed to happen at a career fair.

Discussion questions

What did Taylor do well?
Taylor looked at what companies would be at the fair and decided which would be her top choices. She
seems friendly and confident in her initial interactions.
What could Taylor have done better?
Taylor asked for information that she could have easily found online, such as on the company’s
website. The recruiter expected Taylor to have done her research and asked questions more
particular to her interests and values.
Is it a bad sign that the recruiter did not take Taylor’s resume? Why or why not?
Not always. Many companies collect all applications through their website, so recruiters will often
direct you there. It is certainly a good sign if a recruiter wants a copy of your resume, possibly to
help them remember you later when they are reviewing applications. You can use your resume as a
point of conversation to encourage the recruiter to ask for a copy (e.g. “I know your company values
internship experience in this field, and as you can see on my resume, I’ve had internships at these
companies and gained skills in...”)

Career Fair Case 3

Hao would like to stay in the U.S. after he finishes his PhD program, so he is going to target the companies at the Career Fair that sponsor for visas. He checked the Career Center’s list of companies that say they’re interested in international students. From there, he researched the companies to look at the type of work they do and what positions they’re currently hiring for. He prepared his introduction, questions for each company, and he’s feeling confident.

At the Career Fair, Hao has done well talking with a couple recruiters. He approaches one of his top choices,  Company Y, and introduces himself. After the recruiter,  Ken, introduces himself, Hao gives his introduction and  has his resume ready. Then Hao says, “I see you have a  globe sticker on your sign. Do you sponsor visas for PhD-level employees?”

The recruiter pauses and then responds, “Sometimes. It  really depends on the person and the project. If we need  someone with particular expertise, then we can sponsor. Otherwise, we usually don’t.”

Hao is unsure how to respond, but decides to stay upbeat.  “As you can see on my resume,” Hao says, pointing to the document, “I have excellent analytical skills with large,  complex data sets, machine learning, and text mining. I have experience in research on labor markets and various types of economic modeling. Do those fit some of the  projects where you might offer sponsorship?”

“Unfortunately, no,” replies Ken. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” says Hao. “Thanks for talking with me and  have a nice day.”

Discussion questions

What did Hao do well?
Hao did a good amount of research on companies at the fair. He prepared an introduction and well-tailored questions. He even paid attention at the fair to signs that indicate that an employer sponsors for visas, and used this to transition the conversation to visas.
What could Hao have done better?
Not all companies sponsor for visas for all of the roles they’re hiring for.  Sometimes a company will tell the career fair organizers that they sponsor for visas, but the roles the recruiter is hiring for at the fair may not be eligible. How could have used web resources such as My Visa Jobs and GoinGlobal to find out more about the company’s track record with visa sponsorship.

Career Fair Case 4

Felix is a first-year Master of Fine Arts student, and he’s looking for an internship for the upcoming
summer. He is interested in exploring how his documentary skills could intersect with business and
marketing. He has looked into some companies that will be at the fair, practiced his introduction, and
prepared questions.

The day of the Career Fair, Felix has class until 1pm, so he knows he needs to go directly to the fair to maximize the time he has. After registering and walking around the room to see where different employers are, Felix sees one of the companies he’s interested in. Luckily, there is no line for this company, so Felix walks up to the table.

The recruiter is sitting in a chair behind the table and Felix notices that she looks a little tired. He introduces himself and talks about his career interest.

The recruiter responds without getting up, “Hi, Felix. Pleasure to meet you. I’m Nadia. Here are some brochures about our internships,” indicating a stack on the table.

Felix picks up a brochure and adds, “Thanks for the information. I have a few questions I’d like to ask. Do you require particular academic programs or coursework?”

“No, not really,” Nadia responds.

Felix waits for Nadia to elaborate, but when she doesn’t, he presses on with his next question. “Are any of the interns hired later for full-time employment?”

“Sometimes, depending on what we have available,” says Nadia. She sighs afterward and looks down at her table.

Felix is not sure how to keep the conversation going further. He was prepared to ask for recruiters’ contact  information, but it does not seem like Nadia is interested in him. He decides to move on and says, “Well, thanks for talking with me.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” she responds.

Discussion questions

What did Felix do well?
Felix has clear goals for the types of projects he wants to work on. He prepared thoroughly to make a good impression even with the short amount of time he had at the fair. Felix handled the interaction well and remained positive and polite. He could have asked some of his additional questions, but he perceived that the recruiter did not seem interested.
What could Felix have done better?
Felix did quite well, and there are only a couple of points where he might have done better. He could have asked the recruiter for her contact information so he could follow up with her after the fair, perhaps when she is more inclined to talk more in depth. Felix could have also asked questions that don’t lead to yes/no responses in the hopes that the recruiter would have engaged more.
Do you think the recruiter handled the interaction well? Why or why not?
Recruiters can get tired after a day of being on their feet and talking to students. Getting to the fair
earlier is a good way to avoid this. If nothing else, knowing when to end a conversation and how to
follow up by email can be useful.

Build your plan

Know who is attending the career fair and learn more about them

Access the career fair event information on the Career Center website, or use the Duke Digital Career Fair Guide as a source, to locate a list of companies attending the career fair. Pick a company and choose the information you wish to gather. Choose five of these employers for this exercise. Use a table, choose your column headings (refer to the list or use those provided) and add the information you find.

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List of possible column headings:
Location(s), Alumni Hires, News and Events, Staff Size, Company Mission, Position Titles, Positions Available,
Company Culture, Main Product Lines, Industry, Financial Statistics and Organizational Structure

Score each organization according to your values and preferences
Now, score each column from 1 – 5 aligning with your values and preferences (1 being the least aligned and 5 being 

the most aligned). Plan your career fair schedule to make sure you visit companies to which you gave the highest
score. You may begin by visiting companies lower on your list to gain practice or start with your first choice to take
advantage of being fresh to the fair. The choice is yours.

This exercise is similar to the L.A.M.P. list created by Steve Dalton.
More resources
The 2 Hour Job Search
Beyond B-School

The best sources of information for different industries

The single best resource of company information is the company’s website. The easiest way to find a company’s website is to access your favorite search engine, such as Google.com, and type the company’s name in the search box. Then follow the link to the company’s website. You will not be the only one using this technique; so utilizing other methods of research will allow you to gain additional information about the company.

Public Companies

Read outside reviews, news stories and profiles of companies. Among the best sources for gathering
information on public companies are:

Private Companies

The vast majority of all companies in the U.S. are private. Two good sources for locating this
information are:

STEM Resources

Nonprofit Resources

News Stories

Specific information on companies, their products, services, and projects comes from articles published in various media outlets. Search through national news, business publications, and specialized industry-specific publications.

Researching Industry Information

The next step in conducting research is gauging the competitive nature of the industry (or industries) related to your companies of interest. Through an overall understanding of an industry, you may be able to spot trends that are either opportunities or threats for your prospective employers. You may also be able to gauge the growth of the industry.

Career Beam
Note: On this site, hover over the Research Tools tab and click on “Industry Reports”
Career Onestop
Bureau of Labor Statistics Industries at a Glance
Department of Labor

Employers have only a little time to get to know potential candidates. At a career fair, you can stand out from the crowd by preparing a thoughtful introduction that begins to address three key elements all managers, recruiters and co-workers want to see.

Strengths: Can you do the work?
How do your knowledge, skills, and aptitudes connect to the work that they’ll ask you to do.

Motivation: Do you care about our work?
How are you invested in the core topics and challenges that frame their work.

Fit: Can we work with you?
How will you thrive in their work environment? How will you connect with their work culture?

Adapted from Forbes.com, “Top Executive Recruiters Agree There Are Only Three True Job Interview Questions”, George Bradt, April 2, 2011

First: Decide what is important

Consider what will be the most interesting and relevant information you can share with employers and recruiters. Brainstorm how elements of your strengths, motivation, and fit align with the employer and role you’re interested in.

Second: Choose your focus and format

These sample introductions demonstrate different ways you can structure your introduction and what information
you can include. If you’re not sure which one to pick, write some notes on what each sample does well, and then see
if you can replicate those strong points using your own story.

Strengths

I can do the work.
Hello, my name is Joanna Fields, and I’m interested in a data science career at Quintiles. I have eight years of experience using data analysis and statistical tools, chiefly R, Python, MySQL, and some C++. Using this skill  set, I’ve worked on a diverse set of problems, including financial performance analysis during an internship at  Siemans and a systems approach to understand how to capture solar energy during my PhD research at  Duke. I was also part of a cross-functional team that made it to the finals at Duke DataFest, in which we examined how customers’ use of a website affected sales of cars. Now that you know some of my background, I have a few questions that I’d like to ask you.

Motivation

I care about the work.
Good morning. I’m GiGi Ramirez. Education is my passion, and my recent summer position with the Duke TIP High School Innovations Program has strengthened my desire to teach secondary history education in an innovative, project-based school. As a PhD in art history with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, I have an interdisciplinary teaching philosophy that  aligns with your mission of weaving math and writing throughout the curriculum. I would greatly enjoy sharing my experiences and sample lesson plans with you. How can we connect?


Fit

You can work with me.
It’s nice to meet you. My name is Benji Harrison and I know some people who work at Cvent. I’m impressed with your commitment to positive company culture and the different awards you’ve received. One of the key elements I’m looking for after I finish my PhD in political science is that I want more interaction with people every day. I also enjoy having analytical problems to solve using data. The pace of work and collaboration at Cvent seem attractive. I’d like to ask you questions about some of your open positions and how I am a good fit.

Combination

Strengths, motivation, and fit.
Hello, my name is Yu Wang and I started the Master’s in Economics program this month. I’m interested in your Quant Trading intern position. I already have an undergraduate degree in finance and have scripted in R and Python. I’ve had two internships, one for a major appliance company and one at a large bank. I am complimented on scripting quickly, and that’s why I’m most interested in trading. Pressure and fast-paced work  excite me. At Bank of Communications, my colleague and I collaborated to successfully build a survey database. It was powerful to see our analysis influence my boss’s decisions, and I like that your interns contribute work to the company immediately. You mentioned using historical data for modeling. What data have the interns had access to?

Timeline

Alternatively, you can organize your introduction to go through your present, past, and future.
Hi, I’m Issam Nasser. I am graduating from the Mechanical Engineering Master’s program this year. In addition to an engineering internship, I also completed a postbac research program in anatomy and muscle regeneration. Now I want to draw upon my engineering and biology skill sets, and I’m particularly interested in R&D roles at Stryker to work on joint replacement systems. I have recently been a project manager with DISI, working on an interdisciplinary, start-up collaboration focusing on a novel medical device to be used in developing countries. This has made me more interested in working with a company such as Stryker who is developing cutting edge medical devices for worldwide use. Could you tell me more about current projects at Stryker involving developing countries?

Third: Draft the 30-second version of your ideas

Now that you have some information you want to highlight to employers, you can more easily decide what you want to say in your introduction. While you don’t want to read from a script (or sound like you are) when talking to people, writing is a good opportunity to further organize and clarify your thoughts.

Using your notes from the first exercise and the format you chose from the second exercise, draft an
introduction that is roughly 30 seconds long (about 150 words). You might be surprised at how brief you
need to be.

Fourth: Practice saying your introduction to make it sound natural

Set a timer. Gauge whether you’re excessively long or short. Thirty seconds is arbitrary, but it’s a common recommendation. Consider it a comfortable norm for recruiters.

Use your phone or get feedback from a friend. You probably have a voice recorder on your phone. Use that to learn what you sound like. Do you sound confident in what you’re saying or like you memorized a script?

If working with a friend, colleague, or family member, ask them for specific feedback. Does your introduction flow
well? Do you highlight your skills confidently?

Fifth: Use this rubric to assess your introduction

Needs Improvement

Acceptable

Excellent

Highlights important experiences, skills, interests, and values

Mentions experiences but they are not relevant to the employer

Demonstrates important background

Demonstrates your best qualifications and what makes you a unique candidate

Why you are interested in this field/industry, organization, and role

Includes details unimportant to the position or not understood by interviewer

Includes some detail relevant to the position

Tailored to that specific industry, organization, and role

Relevant to employer

Many non-essential details included

Mostly relevant with a couple non-essential details included

Information totally relevant to employer and conveyed with their perspective in mind

Conveys authenticity, confidence, and positivity

Lacks confidence or emphasizes a weakness/negative

Confident and authentic but raises a minor concern for employer

Confidently conveys message and content is authentic and positively focuses on qualifications

Organized/flows

Disorganized answer that is difficult to follow

Follows a clear story line, perhaps with a detail clarified out of place

Follows a clear story line and organized to emphasize the task/conflict and your action/skills

Concise

>60 second response

~45 second response

~30 second response

Leads to conversation

Ends without a clear way to start a dialogue with the employer

Transitions into related questions at the end

Transitions into related questions at the end; sets up opportunities for follow-up questions from employer

When the recruiter asks, “Now do you have any questions?”, it is important to have a few prepared. It shows you’re interested in the company and are serious about your career plans.

Tailor the questions you ask to your career interests and goals. Don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions—make sure it is information that you need. Also, try to avoid asking questions that are answered in the company’s annual report or employment brochure. Recruiters know when you haven’t done your homework!

Strategic Comeback Questions

These questions are designed to give job-seekers the chance to respond to the recruiter’s answer with a positive spin on how you perfectly fit (and ideally exceed) what the company is looking for in an employee.

Examples

  • What kinds of skills and experience do you look for in the employees you hire?
  • What are the characteristics of your most successful employees?
  • Are graduate degrees important to advancing within your organization? Which ones?
  • Which courses or experiences do you suggest to be a successful candidate?

Strategic Planning Questions

These questions are designed to give the job-seeker more information and knowledge about the hiring process for each particular employer.

Examples

  • What kind of entry-level positions (or internships) exist within your organization?
  • Does your company hire on a continual basis or just at certain times of the year?
  • How long does the hiring process take? What does it consist of?
  • What percent of applicants are eventually hired?
  • What is the retention rate?

Key Company Information Questions

These questions are designed to provide you with critical inside information you need to know when making a decision about the attractiveness of each potential employer. Remember, a job fair is a two-way street and you should be evaluating these companies as much as they are evaluating you.

Examples

  • Are there specific career tracks within the organization? In other words, what can a typical employee (for the position I am seeking) hired in your division expect to be doing 2, 5, or 10 years after hiring?
  • What is your organization’s culture like?
  • For how many years does the typical employee stay with the company?
  • Are there opportunities for ongoing training through your organization?
  • Do you expect your employees to relocate? How much travel is involved?

Recruiter Information Questions

Some experts advise not asking the recruiter personal questions relating to his or her job, but especially if the recruiter is an alum of your university — or you have some other personal connection — these questions are fine. Even if there is no connection, these questions can be asked — and their answers can provide you with some critical insights.

Examples

What made you choose this company and why do you stay?

How long have you been with the company?

What’s the one thing that most surprised you about this company?

Strategic Comeback Questions

These questions are designed to give job-seekers the chance to respond to the recruiter’s answer with a positive spin on how you perfectly fit (and ideally exceed) what the company is looking for in an employee.

Example

What kinds of skills and experience do you look for in the employees you hire?

Now You Try It

Develop 3-4 effective questions relating to a question type