Job fairs seem to be popping up like the flowers in my yard, so let’s review how to maximize your job fair experience!
1. Keep realistic expectations
First of all, you need to realize and accept that you will not be offered a job at a job fair. You won’t even begin the formal interview process at a job fair. To go to a job fair with unrealistic expectations is just setting yourself up for disappointment.
But what IS a job fair good for then? It’s a fabulous opportunity for networking! Where else are you going to have multiple organizations, that are currently looking to hire, all in one place? So, your goal at a job fair should be more about working the room, getting to know people and beginning to build relationships with your target organizations.
In addition to the hiring managers and recruiters at each booth, look for additional networking opportunities around you! Often professional organizations and employment agencies attend career fairs. Sometimes there is an organized program of events with speakers on various topics. Other job seekers around you might also be a great fountain of information and support.
2. Prepare ahead of time!
The best thing you can do to prepare for a job fair: RESEARCH! Oftentimes by registering in advance, you can see the list of participating organizations. Check out each company’s website, LinkedIn page, press, and twitter feed! Be sure to check their “open jobs” page and carefully examine the open positions listed. List any questions you might have about the company and positions you see. If you are a match, have your resume and cover letter prepared!
By checking their LinkedIn page, you can see if you might know anyone who is currently at those organizations. Anyone willing to put in a good word for you before or after the job fair? Or perhaps you can do a little “name-dropping” — “I’m good friends with Stan in your accounting department and he’s told me what a great company you are to work for. I’d really love to speak with you regarding that _____ position.”
Have a plan BEFORE you walk in the door. Go see your targeted company list first. Then walk the aisles and chat with the other organizations as time permits.
3. Come with your toolbox filled!
How can you build a house, if you have nothing to build it with? You can’t attend a job fair without the proper tools, either!
I’ve seen some articles say to attend a career fair with 20 copies of your resume with you. I would say to bring at least that many. Plus, some pre-registration programs allow you to upload your resume. This allows employers to pre-screen potential candidates as well. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with a hiring manager!
You also need business cards, a place to hold the business cards of the recruiters at the job fair, and at least two pens! Having your calendar handy is a great idea if you’re lucky enough to convince them to schedule you for an interview right away!
In addition to those items, your toolbox needs to contain your elevator speech, your success stories, and any research you’ve done on participating companies. Does your position require a portfolio? Be sure those items are ready to go as well. And make sure your social media links (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc) are ready to be checked out by prospective employers. Because they WILL be!
4. Dress the part!
Presentation is important. Period. Dress for the part you wish to have. Conservative business attire is essential. Trust me!
And be organized about what you carry with you – you don’t want to have your hands so full of items that you look disorganized or can’t shake a hand when offered! (I also recommend having a bottle of water ready to go in your bag, breath mints, and extra lipstick for women.) And remember, often these events have all sorts of “swag” – brochures, pencils with company logos on them – and you’ll need a place to store these items. Be ready.
5. Have your game plan!
If you’ve prepared (see step 2) then this step is partially done! I recommend, when at all possible, visiting the booths of your target companies first, then starting as far away from the front door as possible. Work the room opposite of what everyone else is doing. This will give you the chance to talk to some tables before the mass mob hits them.
But obviously, you can’t expect to be able to have a full 30-minute interview with a company. In fact, hogging a recruiter’s time (who is there with the goal of meeting QUANTITIES of candidates, let’s face it) really can be annoying. The best you can expect is the briefest of mini-interviews – no more than five minutes in length. Anything more than that is a bonus.
And that is why is so important to prepare. Nonpreparation is a perfume that is extremely strong and easy to scent on a jobseeker! When you have your 30-second commercial and your specific questions for each company ready, the recruiter will be very impressed that you get straight to the point. And please don’t be offended if the recruiter doesn’t remember everything you told them by the end of the day! After a while, their brain is tired and it’s just going to shut off, no matter how hard they try.
Just walk in with confidence and a good handshake, spend your 3-5 minutes with them, exchange business cards, and ask if there is an acceptable time to follow up. (TIP: Write down whatever they say on the back of the business card! You can’t expect to remember everything either!) Or, if you feel like you’ve hit it off, perhaps suggest a specific time within a few days.
If the booth you’re trying to reach is mobbed, then skip it and try again later. Check out the other target companies on your list. Perhaps talk to the booth next door while waiting for the line to die down. Be sure to use your time as wisely as possible. Waiting in a 200 person line for hours to see just one company, isn’t always the best strategy. In that time you could have spoken to at least ten different companies and developed relationships.
6. It’s all pointless, unless you . . . .
Follow up. Follow up with every single person you meet. Send a personal email, and then connect via LinkedIn. Other suggestions are following up with a voice mail during off-hours to the recruiter, thanking them for their time that day, and/or a written note attached to your resume via snail mail.
This is why you have your own business cards – so you can collect the business cards of others! When you hand your card out, they are obviously going to reciprocate.
Again, following up is the secret ingredient to every single job search tactic out there. Networking doesn’t work without follow up, and remember networking is simply building relationships. You can’t build a relationship without talking to someone!
Just like a garden, a job search does not happen overnight and involves several steps. Job fairs are another way to water the garden that blooms into your new job and career!