On Monday, I wrote a post examining the value of career fairs. I was pretty critical. I wrote the post for two reasons. The first was to share a perspective that some students may agree with. The second reason, and the more important of the two, was to generate a discussion that would hopefully help students and employers learn how to get the most out of career fairs.

In response to my article, Adrian Berg, the Assistant Director of Employer Relations And Marketing at the University of Toronto Mississauga Career Centre, wrote us a great comment on our article sharing tips on how to maximize the potential of career fairs. Below is Adrian’s comment in full. For employers that are considering career fair participation, it provides a balancing overview of the potential value that students can gain from visiting the fair and your booth in particular.

Although it’s true that many students leave career fairs disappointed, there are also many students who find them to be a valuable experience (information from a survey conducted after our last major career fair shows that 89% of students would recommend the fair to their friends).

The key is preparation. Just showing up in jeans and t-shirt, asking reps “What do you do?” is unlikely to add much value to your job searching efforts. Researching the organizations in advance, preparing an effective 20-30 second business introduction and dressing professionally will help you stand out from the crowd and be noticed by the recruiters. Bring along a professionlly made business card and hand it to the employer after you speak with them, and be sure to ask them for one too. Make a visit to your campus Career Centre a priority in the weeks before the fair, to get any help you need on how to prepare so you can make the most of the fair.

The article states that many companies attending career fairs are not hiring. While this may be the case at some fairs, it certainly has not been our experience at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where pretty much all organizations that are attend are currently recruiting (we publish this information in advance in a fair guide, available to students both online and at the fair). But even if they are actively recruiting, students should not expect that the act of attending a fair will bring a job by itself, but rather it’s just one part of an effective job search. Having dozens of employers on campus is a great opportunity to ask questions that provide information beyond what is available on their websites. Students can then use this information to their advantage, by tailoring their resume and cover letter or demonstrating this knowledge when following up with the reps after the fair via email or in an interview.

Not only are fairs an excellent opportunity to build relationships with reps from organizations you may be interested in working for, they’re also a great opportunity to speak with reps from firms that you may not have even considered. Consider this comment from one of our recent graduates: “It really opened my eyes to the diverse types of industries and jobs that are truly available. For example, I always knew I was interested in marketing but I hadn’t considered grocery retail until I stopped at the Loblaw booth at the UTM Career Centre Career Expo in my second year.”

But don’t just attend the career fair and think you’ve done your networking. Most Career Centres also offer a number of employer information sessions, industry panels and/or networking events through the year. Attending these will provide additional networking opportunities, and who knows, you may just run into the same hiring reps at these other events where you can take your relationship building to the next level!