Career Fair Planning Starts Now Blog Feature

By: GreatAmerica on February 7th, 2022

Career Fair Planning Starts Now

As the hiring landscape continues to change, it’s time to set strategies in place to market your business to the next workforce generation. Whether you’re looking to fill an internship or full-time role, current students are eager to find a position that checks all their boxes.  Attending career fairs is a great way to address your upcoming hiring needs and introduce yourself as a competitive opportunity for the best graduating candidates.  

With the help of GreatAmerica’s College Recruiting Team and PathShare® HR Services, we share a 360° view of career fair preparation, execution, and follow-up from the perspectives of Human Resources (HR), and a current college student and GreatAmerica intern, Sylvia Clubb.  

Registering for Career Fairs

HR Perspective: 

When registering for career fairs, it’s helpful to have connections at schools that can provide information on upcoming events, student body interests, and program development. It’s never too early to reach out to career development offices to cultivate a relationship and regularly keep your business fresh in their minds.   

Keep in mind not all colleges provide the same student base. Some schools may have stronger programs that pair well with your common job openings – prioritize fostering those relationships. Additionally, not all career fairs are created equal: do your research on attendance and opportunity to connect with students before registering. Set aside time for post-event evaluation as your team may return and have suggestions specific to each school.  

Student Perspective: 

As a student with specific interests and career goals, Sylvia mentions she looks to attend career fairs tailored to her individual needs. While generalized career fairs offer a wide array of opportunities to a larger student base, attending major or college-specific fairs (i.e. College of Business vs. College of Public Health) ensures businesses and positions align with her career interests and skillset.  

Utilizing Marketing Tools

HR Perspective: 

Many colleges register career fair and job opportunities through Handshake, but it’s also good practice to utilize networking sites and job boards like LinkedIn. Some career fairs provide registered businesses with a list of attendees; however, many schools leave it up to you to reach out to students. If a list or resume database is available, take a moment to review, look up students on LinkedIn, proactively message potential candidates, and extend invitations to visit your booth during the career fair.  

In addition to reaching out to prospective students, connect with students you’ve met at past career fairs. Keep a list of potential candidates you’ve met through the years and reaffirm your interest in getting to know them. 

Make sure you’re advertising your attendance at upcoming career fairs on your social media channels. 

Student Perspective: 

A few weeks before an event, students are provided a list of attending businesses and general information about companies. Students are encouraged to explore websites and social media channels to determine interest level and to prepare for conversations beyond, “What do you do?”  

While this can be a daunting task, simple Google searches for location, area of work, and open positions helps a student narrow down the list of attending businesses and highlight those they are most excited to connect with. For a business looking to attend a career fair, though, this means if your website is not engaging, you may be eliminated from a students’ short list before you even show up. 

What can a business do beyond an engaging website? Reaching out to the student list provided by a career fair helps catch attention and drive traffic to your website and your booth.  

Preparing Staff

HR Perspective:

Because career fairs traditionally take place during the Fall and Spring semesters, you’ll need to plan ahead and speak with hiring leaders regarding the roles they’ll look to fill anywhere from 3-10+ months in advance. Collect information about those roles to share with candidates. 

It helps to have members of the team attend career fairs along with the talent acquisitions team. Before you go, share with team members information on available positions, a list of hiring “Do’s and Don’ts,” and a general career fair FAQ sheet.  

When deciding who should attend a college career fair, select great brand ambassadors that are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your business. Often, having an employee attend who is an alumnus of the school can make a big impression on students: finding a common point of connection can help your business stand out.  

P.S. - A comfortable pair of shoes always comes in handy.  

Student Perspective: 

While it’s great to speak with HR representatives, students enjoy connecting with employees that work in the job sector. They’re able to provide a different perspective than HR professionals, and often can answer more specific questions about the role.  

Sylvia commented, “I love connecting with employee representatives that graduated recently from my university. They’re able to discuss my current classes and professors with me – additionally, it’s easier to relate to them on a personal level since they have experience being a college student at my university.” 

Day of Best Practices

HR Perspective: 

Set forth a “plan of attack” during the career fair. Assign roles, shifts, and responsibilities for all attending. It’s helpful to prepare a “talk track” to introduce an approaching student to your business.  

Create an inviting space with an eye-catching banner, table covering with your logo, recruiting brochures and maybe freebies customized with your logo and contact information (for example, candy, lip balm, and reusable straws are some current favorites) help bring candidates to your booth. That said, it’s your communication skills keep them there! Station an employee in front of your table to draw in and welcome students. Make sure you enlist people who are relatable, friendly and enthusiastic about both your organization and the positions you are filling.  

Student Perspective:

When attending a career fair, I prioritize visiting businesses I’ve researched and those that reached out to me with potential opportunities aligning with my skillset. While it may be embarrassing to admit, I am attracted to the marketing and freebies. I feel it’s common courtesy to interact with the people stationed at the booth I’m visiting – even if my first intention was just to snag a pen," mentions Sylvia as she reflects on the career fairs she’s attended. 

"I thrive when I’m in a welcoming environment where I can have intentional and productive conversations with employee representatives. Body language, eye contact, and the absence of electronics in these conversations makes such a large impact on my perspective of the company." - Sylvia Clubb

Productive Conversations 

HR Perspective: 

Ask probing questions to learn more about each student. Although course of study is important, it’s equally important to understand where a student’s interests and skillsets lie – which may fall out of a typical career in their major.  

Establish a system for tracking the students you talk to. Scoring or grading helps you remember which students you’d like to pursue, contact, or those who don’t fit your job specifications or company culture.  

Any information you gain from conversations should be recorded so future action can be taken. A simple Excel spreadsheet to fill in students’ name, interests, grade, and contact information can work. Don’t spend your time on your laptop during the career fair; instead make notes and enter this information later. Accepting a hard copy resume (or electronic scan) will also help you collect that information.  

Student Perspective:

Students are also seeking productive conversations. Throughout the fair, I often look for businesses to give me insight into their business that I wouldn’t find online. While I can gather information about a business from their website, gaining an employee’s perspective on their company is often more applicable than professional branding. Knowing that I’ve gained some insider knowledge helps me decide which companies I might be interested in pursuing,” adds Sylvia. 

Post-Fair Activities

HR Perspective: 

After each career fair you attend, take inventory of the information you collected and review the candidates that interested you. If interview days are offered as a part of the career fair, consider utilizing them to immediately capture top candidates. Remember, it’s competitive for top talent. Keep a running file of information to review in coming years for potential opportunities.  

Ask yourself: What went well? What can we improve upon? What tactics did other businesses use that could be helpful to us? Does it make sense to plan to attend this career fair in the future? 

Student Perspective: 

After a career fair, connect with students where they are most likely to be found. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a personalized note about your conversation. A phone call or email to your top candidates can help you really stand out and let them know you’re serious about matching the role and the person. Any personalization you can add to correspondence will illustrate to the student that you’re seeking them as an individual, not as just another one of many in the crowd. 

Want to Learn More?

Building a strong college connection can help create a stream of talent to support your business. Career fairs are one opportunity to interact with college staff and students to build connections, but they aren’t the only way. If you’d like to learn more about college recruiting, click here 


GreatAmerica is the largest independent, family-owned national commercial equipment finance company in the U.S. and is dedicated to helping manufacturers, vendors, and dealers be more successful and keep their customers for a lifetime. GreatAmerica was established in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1992 and now has offices in Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, and Illinois. In addition to financing, GreatAmerica offers innovative non-financial services to help our customers grow.