It's important to understand the basic types of interviews that take place at a job fair since your approach should be different with each. As you watch and listen from the side, you will be able to determine which type of interview is being conducted and to modify your approach accordingly. The following are the three basic types.
By far the most common type of job fair interview. This interview usually lasts no more than two to three minutes and is usually conducted by employers whose main interest is gathering resumes and initial impressions before making decisions as to whether they will move to the next step. You will be asked questions about your major, your GPA, your experience, and what type of position you are seeking. Your strategy should be to quickly point them to the key areas in your background that reflect their needs. What needs? The needs they enumerated six candidates ago when you were standing off to the side as another candidate naively walked up and asked, "So what is your company looking for?" You need to fill the employer's list of requirements or you will never see the light of day at the next level. This is the time to use your Thirty Second Elevator Pitch, keeping it short and succinct. Ask for a business card and inquire as to the next step.
This interview usually lasts five to ten minutes and is conducted at the employer's booth, sometimes seated, rather than standing. Be prepared to give a full introduction of your background and quickly position yourself as someone who is a good fit in relation to that employer's needs. The recruiter will usually want you to elaborate on the information contained in your resume, so it is crucial that you be prepared to comment on each and every item on it. Be prepared to give supporting behavioral examples for what might be a single-line bullet item on your resume. You may also be asked one or two introductory interview questions. Sometimes there will be questions related to qualitative behavioral traits which resumes do not reflect. Make sure all of your answers position you as the candidate who meets the employer's needs. Ask for a business card and inquire as to the next step.
The full interview (if there is one being conducted) typically takes place behind a curtain or screen either at/near the employer's booth or may be in another part of the hall altogether. Most employers use the full interview only as a secondary interview. In other words, you have to be invited to the interview based on the previous screening interview or mini-interview at the employer booth. Be prepared for twenty minutes or more, but probably no longer than thirty minutes, since most employers have a tight schedule to keep. Consider this interview the same as you would any full-length interview. Be aware that you may actually be interviewed by technical or line managers. You will be asked a number of qualitative, open-ended questions and will be expected to provide specific examples of your past results. Make sure you are prepared for the interview by reading the Interviewing Success information at this site. At the end of the interview, if you are truly interested, inform the interviewer of your interest and inquire as to the next steps. Assume that he or she is also interested.
Unless you are certain the employer is conducting secondary interviews, do not consider it a negative if all you went through was the screening or mini-interview. I realize that it can be rather depressing to spend two quick minutes with a Recruiter after a thirty-minute wait, but that is the reality of the meat market mentality of job fairs. Just make sure you know what the next step will be and follow up. This is not the time to cross your fingers and hope—take charge and make things happen.
"What are you looking for here at the job fair?"
"A job" is not an acceptable answer. You should be ready with a clear and succinct description of exactly what you are seeking. If you have done your homework properly, what you are seeking should match quite nicely with what they are seeking. Your comeback question after you have given your 30-second elevator pitch: "And what type of candidates are you seeking?" The perfect setup for establishing potential common interests.
Use the Personality Matching Technique found in the Mastering the Interview section to create a connection when interacting with recruiters. If you use this simple technique, you will not only gain instant rapport, you will also greatly increase your odds of being called back for secondary interviews.
In fact, to be truly outstanding at interviewing, you will need to read and understand all of the interviewing information on this site. Read it before you attend any job fairs or interviews.