Career Fair Resources and Preparation


In-Person vs. Virtual Fair





Large open space with individual employer booths

Completely online through Handshake, join the fair from any location on your computer


Visit booths to interact with one of several employer representatives, an interaction with an employer at a career fair is often no more than 2-3 minutes

Sign up for a 10-minute timeslot to interact with representatives via video, audio, or chat or sign up for a 30-minute group session

Interactions Option to mill around and "bump into" interesting employers or talk to other students while waiting in line More targeted approach to identifying employers to chat with who have job opportunities
Schedule Come and go as you please during the fair Build a pre-determined schedule that is flexible around your other commitments

Guide to Attending an In-Person Career Fair

Preparing for the Fair

In-person career fairs and virtual career fairs operate differently, though your goals for attending may be the same.   If you haven't attended an in-person fair before, this will be a different kind of experience with different advantages.

What's the key to success at a fair?

Strategize and Prioritize

  • Determine how much time you have to network at the Career Fair.
  • Decide which companies you are interested in talking to. Log into Handshake, select Events tab on top part of home screen. Click on Find Career Fairs, then select the Illinois Gies Business Fair, select View All Employers, then use the searchable fields on the left to narrow down your search.
  • Create your employer list.

Research and Apply

  • For each company you plan to visit, research the company and apply through Handshake (and their website before if prompted) before attending the Career Fair. This demonstrates genuine interest and helps you stand out at the Career Fair.
  • Determine the most important skills, qualification and experience the employers are seeking, then customize your resume
  • Be prepared to talk to the employer about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. (We know you really want an internship, and that it would be great experience for you! Tell the employer why you would be an asset to them!)

Prepare Your Resume, Pitch and Questions

  • Utilize the SORR Resume Method to create your most powerful resume yet!
  • Create a customized "pitch" for each company. A sample template for creating your pitch  can be found here.
  • Practice your customized pitches using Big Interview or by meeting with a career advisor.
  • Prepare questions for the employer based on your research of the company and what you genuinely want to find out (ex. How does your company promote professional development for its employees?)

In-Person Career Fair Tips

Dress professionally. Wear comfortable but appropriate shoes. See below for more tips.

Bring your I-Card and Cell Phone (Illinois App--Building Access Granted) to gain access to the event

Bring a padfolio with a notebook and your company research.

Visit high-priority employers after you start feeling comfortable and confident in your approach.

Ask questions about the position, training and the employer. Do not ask about salary.

Request contact information from recruiters so that you can send thank-you emails and connect with them on LinkedIn.

Be prepared that some employers cannot accept hard copy resumes and will ask you to apply online. This is to comply with federal regulations about the way employers keep data on applicants, and to manage applicant data efficiently.

Handshakes were critical pre-Covid.  While handshakes are acceptable to many, some recruiters would prefer a wave or fist bump instead.

The best strategy is: Be prepared!

Be flexible and prepared for the unexpected.
It's not uncommon that the person who registered their organization for the fair (several weeks or months prior) indicated hiring needs, but the reps who actually participate in the fair tell you something different. That's frustrating for you. Be prepared to engage in a conversation and show that you did your research. If the employer gave information that is no longer accurate, perhaps the rep can explain how their hiring needs change, and can tell you who to contact about the hiring needs that match your qualifications and interests.


Dress for Success



Recommended Dress Code

Appropriate Attire

Career Fair, Interviews

Business Professional

Dark or neutral colored pant, dress or skirt suit, button-down shirt and closed-toe shoes.

Networking Events

Business or Smart Casual

Khakis, dress pants, skirt, worn with a button-down shirt, sweater or blouse.  Some styles of dresses are appropriate.  A blazer is recommended for some events.


Want step by step help preparing for the fair? Check out our Career Fair Preparation Worksheet.

    Handshake's Guide to Attending a Virtual Fair

    During the fair, you will be able to engage with employers in two different ways:

    1. Group Sessions: 30 minutes each, multiple students can attend
    2. 1:1 Sessions: 10 minutes each, one student and one employer representative can attend (must pre-register to attend)

    You'll be able to sign up for sessions prior to and on the day of the fair.

    Students will be able to sign up for sessions with availability up till one minute before the start of the session. Once the session has started, students will not be able to sign up.

    ***IMPORTANT: Once you have registered for a session, you will be able to message an employer directly through Handshake.  This is a great resource, make sure to take advantage of this!

    1. Registering and signing up for sessions
    • In order to sign up for sessions with employers, you must be registered for the fair.  Once you're registered for the fair, you'll be able to view and sign up for available employer sessions.
    • Review which employers are attending the fair ("follow" employers you want to check back in with)!
    • When you locate an employer that you'd like to sign up for a session with, look for the session information to appear below the employer name and description.  Option 1: Group sessions will have a custom title and indicate a length of 30 minutes.  Option 2: One on One with EMPLOYER NAME
    • To sign up for Group or 1:1 sessions, you may be prompted to update your profile privacy setting. We recommend using the "Community" setting to make the most of your Handshake experience.
    • Students are able to sign up for as many sessions as desired, with the following guidance:   Session times may not overlap. If you would like to sign up for a session and see a red dot to the right of the time, this indicates the time overlaps an existing signup.    Students may sign up for multiple 1:1 sessions from the same employer, but not more than one session with the same recruiter. If you'd prefer a different session time, you'll first need to cancel your existing 1:1 session, then select a new time.
    2. Preparing for the fair

    Here are some best practices to help you prepare for a successful fair:


    Will students be able to submit their resumes to employers? Without joining sessions?

    Yes! When students sign up to meet with employers in 1:1 and/or group sessions, they are added to a RSVPs list, and employers will have access to these students' public resumes before and after the fair.

    Will students who live internationally be able to participate?

    There are no restrictions by location, so as long as the student has logged into Handshake they will be able to participate.

    Can a student see previously attended sessions?

    Yes! Students will be able to see their previous sessions within the sessions tab.

    Will students, employers and career staff have access to transcripts of the chats they had during the virtual fair?

    Transcripts will not be provided for conversations held during the fair. Instead, there will be moderation options for students and employers to utilize during conversations.

    3. Participating in the fair

    All sessions will have the option for Handshake video, audio and text based chat. There is no customization for types of interaction; it is up to the employer and student joining the session to determine how they would like to connect.

    As long as you're signed up for the session successfully, you'll be able to join up to 5 minutes prior to the session start and throughout the duration of the session.

    • To sign up for Group or 1:1 sessions, you may be prompted to update your profile privacy setting.  We recommend using the "Community" setting  to make the most of your Handshake experience, as this will allow you to participate in all fair sessions and engage with other students/alumni!
    • Review which employers are attending the fair (follow employers you want to check back in with)!
    • You'll be able to sign up for sessions up to one(1) minute before the start time; once the session has started, you'll be unable to sign up for the session.
    4. Following up after the fair

    Once the fair has wrapped up, you can followup with employers in Handshake via:

    • messaging the employer through Handshake to say "thank you"
    • following their company profile (receive notifications of employer activity at your school)
    • responding to an employer message
    • applying for an active job
    • participating in an interview
    • attending an event

    To quickly see who you attended sessions with, navigate back to the fair in Handshake with the direct link to the fair or browse using the filter "past fairs". Click on the Available Sessions tab to see your list of sessions populate on the right side of the page. Click on any session from that list to see group session descriptions or 1:1 host name/title.

    Virtual Career Fair Preparation Tips and Resources

    1. 1

      Before you attend make sure to review The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Career Fairs!

    2. 2

      Do your company research prior to the fair and complete a Career Fair Preparation Worksheet

    3. 3

      Utilize the SORR Resume Method to create your most powerful resume yet!

    4. 4

    5. 5

      Read on for what to do AFTER the fair!

    Follow up after the In-Person or Virtual Fair—Here's Your "Must Do" list

    1. Send a thank you note to the recruiter's email address.

    Follow-up promptly after the career fair, to thank the employers for their time and to remind them of your application.

    Craft a professional and intentional message. College recruiters can be at multiple career fairs at multiple campuses each month – help them place where they met you. Remind them of the fair at which you interacted with them, mention specific topics from your conversation, and reiterate your interest in specific positions and opportunities. And thank them for their time and consideration of your application. Don't forget to attach your résumé (you know, for their convenience!).

    NOTE: After attending a virtual fair on Handshake, you can send a message directly from Handshake to the employers that you participated in one-on-one or groups sessions with.

    It's been a week and I didn't receive a response, now what?

    Don't worry, these folks are busy! Checking in 10-14 days with a follow-up message is an appropriate interval. The goal is to be enthusiastic – but not irritating.

    2. Connect with all Recruiters that you met on LinkedIn

    Before doing so,  make sure your LinkedIn profile a) exists and b) is up to date. Then use your LinkedIn account to follow companies of interest, connect with recruiters you spoke with, and get a sense of companies' culture and opportunities.

    3. Be Proactive

    What else can I do?

    While career fairs are a great place to make a connection, they're often just one piece of a successful job or internship search strategy. Looking for next steps after the fair?  Use the myriad of other resources available to you to assist in making great connections with employers such as Handshake @ Illinois,  upcoming company events and BCS workshops.   Most importantly, work your network.   Reach out to alumni in your targeted companies, conduct informational interviews and connect!

    Here's Your Cheat Sheet:

    • Send a Thank You Note
    • Connect on LinkedIn
    • Be proactive
    Sample Thank You Note

    Hello,  Thank you so much for speaking with me at the Gies Virtual Career Fair on Sept. 17th.  I enjoyed learning more about POSITION at your COMPANY.   As we discussed, I have (list relevant experience or qualities here).  I have submitted my application and look forward to hearing from you soon.

    Sample Follow Up Email

    Hi Recruiter Name, I hope you are doing well. I wanted to follow up and ensure that you received my email message sent on DATE. After speaking with you at the Gies Virtual Fair, I am very interested in POSITION. I look forward to speaking with you about the opportunities at COMPANY. Thanks!

    Sample LinkedIn Request

    Hello! It was great meeting you at the Gies Virtual Career Fair today.  Thanks for answering my questions about POSITION NAME.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.


    The guidance you need to feel confident, poised, and prepared to meet recruiters online.

    Learn More

    Learn how to create the perfect elevator pitch ahead of your next career fair. (Includes examples!)

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    Tips for developing questions that will help you learn more about employers.

    Learn More