Understanding what type of job fair you are attending is crucial to your planning, since each type has distinct differences in approach, setup, and general level of success for entry level candidates.
Campus-Sponsored Job Fairs
Attend career fairs and job fairs early in your college career so that you are familiar with the process later when it counts.The campus-sponsored job fair is by far the most popular for college students. For many, this is the job fair. Larger campuses will often have several different job fairs, each one geared toward a specific discipline. They are usually sponsored by the Career Center on campus, although some may be sponsored by a particular academic department, club, or group. The campus-sponsored job fair is ideal for most college students since it is convenient, the lines are generally shorter than at commercial job fairs, and employers are predisposed to and familiar with your college. Many employers attend the job fair in advance of their on campus recruiting activities, while some use this as their only campus visit. Often the more astute employers will bring along a recent grad, possibly even from your school, to talk with prospective grads. Another trend in recent years has been for smaller colleges to combine together to create consortium job fairs.
Campus-Sponsored Career Days
Campus job fairs will always be the most productive, since the employers already have an interest in your college.As a sideline to the campus job fairs, many campuses now have an event they call "Career Day" in the fall semester, and a "Job Fair" in the spring semester. The big difference is that many employers who come for Career Day are not actively hiring at that time. They often come for the exposure to students ahead of on-campus interviews or the spring job fair. It serves as more of an information-sharing activity than a recruiting activity. In short, it's a good time to meet employers in advance and gather up all their slick glossies on what they think makes them the best employer in the world. But remember, actively hiring or not, it is still an interview and you still are being evaluated.
Commercial Professional Job Fairs
These general professional job fairs are geared to a wide range of professional occupations, from accounting to programming to engineering to sales. Be aware that you are running with a new herd at this one. You have to be prepared to compete directly with those who have practical work experience in the field. Get ready to hear a lot of no's, but the occasional employer that does have a need at the entry level could make it worthwhile. Your main objective should be to gather information for later direct follow-up with the employers. Do not expect anyone to call you back based only on dropping off a resume.
Commercial Specialty Job Fairs
These professional job fairs are geared toward a specific group, such as "Computer Job Fair" or "Technical/Engineering Job Fair." If you are in one of the specialty groups, this is an excellent resource for finding hiring employers. Again, you are competing against literally hundreds of better qualified candidates, so your purpose should be to gather information about hiring employers for later direct contact.
Community Job Fairs
These are free-for-all job fairs offering everything from Swing Shift Manager at McDonald's to professional and management positions. There are often over one hundred employers involved. If you choose to attend, make sure you are very targeted and very direct about the type of jobs and type of employers you are seeking. Identify the employers you want to work for and target their booth locations before entering the crowd of people.