As a graduate, it can be difficult to get your foot in the doorway with big companies when you lack experience. That’s why career fairs are such brilliant opportunities – employers have actively chosen to participate in order to expose themselves to as many qualified candidates as possible, whether or not they are currently hiring. “Employers are in the right ‘mode’ during a career fair. They are there to meet potential candidates and therefore they are open and approachable” says Anna Månsson, Career Adviser at the Lund University School of Economics and Management.

It’s a good idea to take full advantage of this opportunity to engage face-to-face with potential employers by planning and preparing for career fairs as you would for an interview. Even though the setting appears to be less formal and more open, all the recruiters participating will be evaluating you and your suitability against the other attendees. Career fairs are important screening processes for companies so it’s crucial that you measure up to recruiter’s expectations.

Here’s how to get fit for the fight:

Make sure you know your stuff

Anna advises that you, “find out which employers will be attending and make a list of the ones you are interested in talking to”. Once you have done this, research them! Check out their websites, LinkedIn profiles and blogs, and if possible read up on the company in industry magazines and in the news. Try to define two or three key facts that make the company unique and use these to formulate intelligent questions that demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about.

Before you begin talking to anyone, you should feel confident that you understand what the company does, how they operate and what you, personally, have to offer them.  Spend some time thinking about what you would like to get out of the fair, this could be, “…a contact or a job interview, but also material for your future job applications with the company” says Anna.

Market your own personal brand

It’s essential to have some marketing aids along with you at the career fair – your outfit, CV and business cards all communicate something about your suitability and it’s critical that you make them work to your advantage. Read Graduateland’s article on personal brands to understand how to market yourself effectively.  Decide in advance if you want to give out a general CV or one tailored to specific companies or industries, then use it as personal advertising space and include your achievements and skills rather than previous responsibilities and duties. Get your CV reviewed by a helpful person and be on high alert for errors; they are never impressive.

Choose an outfit which is smart, fits well and makes you look like a pro.  If you have business cards they should be attractive, eye-catching and match the style of your CV. It could also be useful to bring any letters of recommendation or recent transcripts, but don’t get bogged down carrying too many documents around - only bring what you think will be helpful. Make sure you have electronic copies that match your paper ones and are conveniently saved on your phone so you can fire them off straight away if anyone asks for them.

Communicate clearly

You need to practice introducing yourself to company representatives, basically answering the question ”tell me a little about yourself”. Prepare a short ‘elevator pitch’ for each company focusing on how you can help them excel.  Boost your confidence by talking to employers you aren’t interested in and anyone who will listen beforehand. Once you have talked with recruiters, make notes to remind yourself of who they were and what you talked about. If they ask you to send a CV or other information to them, do it straight away. People always appreciate good manners, so let them know that you’re courteous and professional by sending them a short e-mail thanking them for their time.

At some career fairs, they don’t accept CVs, if this is the case it’s important that you showcase some excellent communication skills. In this situation, your listening and speaking skills will really come into play, and you’ll need to work hard to make a memorable first impression. Focus on listening carefully to recruiters before you answer their questions, and be careful not to interrupt them or get distracted. Keep your body language open, remember to make eye contact and smile. Speak slowly and clearly and if you find yourself beginning to get nervous, take a few deep breaths before continuing. Body language experts suggest spending two minutes in a “power pose” (arms outstretched at chest height) to reduce your stress levels and make others perceive you as more confident.