Most colleges and universities will have a fall career fair in either September or October. This is the more important career fair compared to the spring as many companies / institutions and recruiters are now focusing on the fall career fair and are not going to the spring career fair. Having visited all career fairs at Tufts since I became a full-time faculty member in 2010 to say hello to old friends, having many former students and friends working at career fairs, having worked at career fairs, and now having a brother working at his alma mater’s career fair, most students do career fairs wrong. I’ve been wanting to write a sobering career fair piece for a while. If I had to give a few pieces of sobering advice from the perspective of an employer, here are the common mistakes I see year in and year out.

  1. You didn’t do any basic preparation. First things first, read the career fair prep guide put out by your school. Examples: Tufts University, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon, University of New Hampshire. The content in the guides are similar but if you do not make eye contact or if you bring a drink, you failed the basics which are listed in almost all guides.

  2. You didn’t do any basic research on my company or institution. You’re asking me “what does your company do?” or “do you have any jobs for me?” –really? You just wasted my time, and I will mark a “NO” on your resume. For the love of God, do some basic research on the companies you are interested in meeting at career fair.

  3. You didn’t leave a lasting impression to make me call you back for an interview. More specifically: you didn’t tell my why you are interested in working at my company. You didn’t tell me about your skillset and what you want to work on. We didn’t have a good conversation. I didn’t sense a match or fit. This is a lot to ask for but at the end of a long and exhausting career fair, I will have met many people –so how do you stand out? That’s why a one minute (max) pitch to potential employer(s) is critical to prepare for.

  4. You just stood there or stood there with your friends. Multiple problems here. No job is given to you. No company or institution will be dragging you to talk. You have to make the first move. If you are with your friends, it is overwhelming for me to talk to multiple people at once. It also tells me you are not serious about your own career.

  5. You rambled on-and-on about yourself. You are inconsiderate of other people’s time as there can be a long line of people waiting to talk to me.

  6. You dressed inappropriately.

Career fairs at colleges and universities are still important despite high signal-to-noise ratio of people visiting tables of employers. As an employer, I need to fill needs for a company / institution. It is important for you to tell me what you want and how we can combine your want with my needs. If I am an alum of the school, it is an opportunity for me to maintain a relationship with the school and to see how much the school has progressed. It is also no secret most people like to hire people from their alma mater. Therefore, a career fair for the students is not only an event to seek job opportunities but also to represent the school well.