I’ve been asked to plan and run a high school career fair. Any tips for organizing a successful one? I want to make it a meaningful experience not only for students, but for everyone involved. 

I remember attending career fairs when I was in high school. Like most students, I spent the day walking around with a group of friends, wandering aimlessly, and stopping at various tables with little direction. Regardless of the fact that there were some wonderful people and organizations represented at the event, I just didn’t know enough about myself and where I would best fit in the working world to take advantage of the information that was being provided by exhibitors. What a wasted opportunity!

If you’re responsible for planning a career fair right now, you’re probably asking yourself how to avoid a similar situation with your students. I’ve spent some time looking at what works at these events and what doesn’t, and I’ve got some simple ideas to make your career fair a successful venture for all involved.

As you begin to plan for your career fair, consider incorporating some or all of the suggestions below to encourage student engagement, improve exhibitor interactions, and to create an event that is meaningful for both your students and attending exhibitors. Creating a successful career fair is going to take a substantial amount of planning, so you’ll also find a detailed checklist to help you stay on track, stay organized, and manage your time wisely.  

Gather support.

The first thing you’ll need to do is to start pulling together your A-team. Seek out each and every career fair stakeholder group: parents, student clubs/organizations, teachers and staff, community leaders, career development specialists, local business professionals, and higher education institutions. Recruit enthusiastic individuals who are interested in helping to plan, promote, and/or sponsor this event to make it a success. Also consider reaching out to local retirees who may be willing to volunteer. They can be a wonderful resource due to their years of wisdom, desire to help, and flexible schedules. Once you’ve formed an official career fair committee, leverage each member’s networking connections to help you develop a list of exhibitors. Developing a powerful committee of people who are interested in helping the next generation succeed in life will result in a more fruitful experience because you’ll expand your time and your reach.

Make the experience meaningful.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that one career fair is just like the next. There are a few steps you can take early on to ensure that your career fair is molded to the interests and goals of the current student body. Here’s how:

Have a theme.

Give your career fair a theme that adds value to the event. For example, one option to consider is organizing your career fair around students’ Holland codes and inviting employers and schools that complement students’ preferred work environments. This will help students find their way to businesses or schools that align with their interests, and they’ll be able to talk to representatives who will help bring it all to life. Here’s how:

Prepare students well.

This may be the first time many high school students have ever attended a career fair. So it’s important to take some time to teach students the basics of professional encounters. Here’s how:

Generate excitement.

A career fair presents a unique opportunity to open students’ eyes to career possibilities and to give them a sense of hope for a better future. This is something to get excited about! Your enthusiasm will be contagious as you share the good news with others. Here’s how:

Remove obstacles.

As you invite local employers and postsecondary institutions to your fair, invest time in providing them with some helpful tips to make the day a success. Here’s how:

It’s show time.

Finally, the big day is here. If you worked diligently through the checklist and carefully planned all the details of the event, today will flow smoothly, and without a hitch, right? Well, that’s what we hope for, but more than likely, you will run into a snag or two today. Not to worry! Follow the plan, prepare for the typical day-of-the event snags, and keep yourself available to resolve issues as they arise throughout the day. Here’s how:

Keep up the momentum.

Don’t drop the ball once the big day is over. Nurture connections with students, volunteers, and exhibitors and build on your career fair’s success. Here’s how:

A career fair can be a powerful way to help students become career ready. The best way to make sure your event runs smoothly is to pull together a strong support committee, understand your students and their aspirations, plan early, and follow through on the details. Hosting a career fair will demand a great deal of time and energy, but the right support and tools can make all the difference.

Career Fair Checklist

Print this free resource and keep it handy as you go about planning your event.