How to Run a Career Fair (Columbia Univ.)
By Caroline Marris and Jake Purcell, Columbia University, October 2016
Using This Guide:This guide is intended to help history department administrators or career counselors think through the process of organizing and running a career fair or networking event for graduate students within your department or from several universities in one area.
Purpose of This Exercise: It’s useful for graduate students at any stage of the program to meet people with PhDs in history working in various sectors. The kind of networking event described below can have many different uses, depending on the needs of the individual attendee. For new graduate students, a career fair can demonstrate the range of career options and provide opportunities for future informational interviews. For later-stage graduate students, this kind of event can yield more specific advice, such as on navigating federal government jobs, or alert students to specific job opportunities. Students will also get to articulate their interests and skills in concise, concrete terms.
Skills This Exercise Addresses: Communication, Intellectual Self-Confidence
Organizing the Career Fair
- Develop clear and simple goals for the fair. These can range from arranging a straightforward meet-and-greet or networking session to organizing a more structured series of talks, interviews, or demonstrations.
- Generate a list of participants who could come speak to students. If your department or institute has listservs or alumni records, or keeps track of job placements, reach out to those connections. Institutional affiliation usually helps to grab a professional’s interest, and in many cases they will be more than happy to come back and talk to students who are currently in their former programs. If you need to find alumni or professionals on your own, or if you know you want to target certain guests, educate yourself on their careers, what they are doing now, and on any connection they may already have to your department.
- Communicate with the participants in a clear and efficient fashion. It’s helpful to write up a formal invitation for all of your potential attendees, which you can then adapt to appeal to their strengths and experience. Be as clear as possible with dates, times, format, and any additional travel or other arrangements your guests may need. Keep track of whom you’ve invited and their institutional affiliations; grouping guests by expertise or field can be a good way to start conversation with students interested in their type of work.
- Advertise widely. Posters, e-mail announcements, and in-person invitations can all encourage students to attend the career fair. Make it clear that specific, interesting people and institutions will be there. If your event is of interest to students outside your department, reach out to local directors of graduate studies or student organizations. Send reminders of the event early and often; setting up an RSVP system may also be helpful. A reminder to bring resumes and business cards and to dress professionally may be helpful or it may be condescending, depending on the context. In our experience, a ratio of 4-5 student attendees per invited professional is a good benchmark to aim for. Any fewer, and conversation might grind to a halt; any more, and your event may become overcrowded or confusing.
- Think about how you want the career fair to play out when picking a space. Are the participants going to lay out information on tables? If refreshments are available, where will people set their beverages? Will people be able to mingle freely, or will the layout make it difficult to move from conversation to conversation?
Running the Career Fair
- At the start of the fair, be sure to have name tags and markers and printed rosters listing participants and their institutional affiliation or expertise to help students meet people. Have the space set up when participants arrive, so they can easily find their places—printed signs can help with this.
- Although you may have a structure in mind to keep the event moving, gauge the mood of the room in the moment and decide as you go whether you want to switch between segments or activities. If in-depth conversations are ongoing, you may want to wait until a natural lull to occur before encouraging new connections to begin.
- Keep an eye on the room to see if anyone needs an introduction, but don’t be overbearing in making connections.
After the Event
- Send thank-you notes or e-mails to all of your guests! You will want to maintain your new relationship with them in case you can be of help in distributing job announcements or other information to your students.
- Facilitate e-mail exchanges between students and professionals who may not have gotten each other’s contact information.