Succeeding at a career fair is all about preparation. These career fair tips will help you get the most out of the event.

Career fairs: Love them or hate them, they can be the springboard for many post-college careers. It is at these events that students mingle with business executives, hiring managers, and recruiters representing organizations ranging from the Fortune 500 to the small business down the street.

Career fairs are offered in a variety of formats. Some are pre-scheduled on campus for college students, while others are industry-specific events for professionals. All have one purpose though: a chance for job candidates to connect with companies and potential employers.

Are you preparing for a job fair? To make the most out of these events and put your best foot forward, set aside time to take the following steps.

The early bird gets the worm

Your first step in attending a career fair is registering, and it’s important to get that done early. This opens up more availability for first-come-first-served meetings and training sessions. Some job fairs even allow pre-registrants to submit a copy of their resumes to attending companies, which gives you a major advantage over other job seekers.

Do your homework

As you prepare for a career fair, research the companies you want to visit. There may be well over a hundred companies attending the fair, so you can’t go to all of them. Look up each company online and check out their available job listings. Pay attention to the company’s About Us page, its mission statement, values, and employee commitment statements, which will reflect whether the work environment will be a good fit. By doing this, you can make smart choices about how (and with whom) you spend your time, increasing your chances of success.

Visit the office supplies store

Most hiring managers and recruiters want to see your resume. Therefore, it’s important to look over your resume carefully and update it before each career event. Hiring a professional resume-writing service is a great way to give your resume a polished design that will stand out from the competition and impress recruiters. Business cards are also key to have handy. Leave your business card with every recruiter with whom you speak. Be proud of your accomplishments and prove what you can bring to the company.

Related: Yes, Business Cards Still Matter. Here’s How to Craft Good Ones

Dress for success

Hiring managers report that dressing inappropriately is one of the most common mistakes attendees make at job fairs. Some budding professionals treat the event as a shopping trip rather than an interview opportunity. Jeans and T-shirts are not appropriate at these types of events. Instead, dress as you normally would for a job interview. There is no need for formal dress — a nice, buttoned-up shirt or blouse with dress pants (and a tie for the guys) works best. Remember to keep it comfortable though, because while you should dress for an interview, you may be on your feet for several hours.

Practice makes perfect

Treating your career fair as an interview doesn’t stop at your wardrobe though. Because you’ll be meeting with hiring managers and recruiters, it’s important that treat each encounter you have as an interview as well. Part of your preparation for a career fair, therefore, should be practicing for potential interviews. This will ensure that you present yourself professionally as well as relieve some nervous jitters and those awkward moments when you don’t know what to say. Many career coaches recommend standing in front of a mirror or practicing with a friend, so give those tricks a try. Click on the following links for a list of the most common interview questions, like “Tell me about yourself” and asking about your long and short-term goals.  And, of course, be sure to prepare a list of questions that you can ask the recruiter.

Related: The Essential List of Interview Questions to Ask

Keep your career fair follow-up in mind

After exchanging business cards, providing a copy of your resume to everyone who will take it, and interviewing with potential employers, make sure to follow up. Many employers like to wait and see who takes the initiative to make first contact. Others simply have so many applications you may get left out without a reminder. Download an app like Evernote to your smartphone ahead of time so you can easily jot down people’s names, contact information, and any other important information you learn about them during the event. Remember, even the other job seekers you meet while waiting in line could potentially become valuable professional networking connections in the future. Send an email or LinkedIn InMail message to each person you meet about a week afterward.

Career fairs are potentially one of the best career marketing strategies for job seekers. Rather than searching hundreds of classified ads or spending countless hours filling out applications and emailing resumes, attendees are connected directly to hiring managers and recruiters. To make the most of the event, start preparing for a career fair by researching the companies and practicing interview questions with a friend And when it comes time to head out, don’t forget those resumes and business cards!

Click on the following link for more professional networking advice.

Make sure your resume is ready for your next career fair. Get a free resume critique today!

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