Job fairs are obvious opportunities for networking, but they require thought and preparation. The fairs, which bring together many companies and potential employers under one roof, at one time, are valuable one-stop career shops.
Job fairs occur all the time, but you may have to go looking for them. Search the internet, newspapers, college career centers and employment agencies for announcements of upcoming fairs. Select those that feature companies and careers that interest you.
Here are some tips to get the most out of attending a job fair.
You must go prepared. A job fair isn’t a job interview, but it’s close. Practice introducing yourself and delivering your elevator speech. Be prepared to confidently discuss your career achievements, not your job duties, with potential employers. Being prepared allows you to make the most of your time and the recruiters’ time which they will be grateful for.
Dress as you would for a real job interview.
Bring numerous copies of your résumé. If you do well, you’ll hand out a lot of them. You will want to write up a general cover letter to attach to your résumé, a summary that clearly defines your career objectives and qualifications in relation to the relevant industry or focus of the job fair. Strong, succinct cover letters make a positive impression. In my experience, few job fair attendees take the time and effort to write and distribute these letters, so doing so will help set you apart from the masses. It shows you put more effort into preparing for the fair than hundreds of others attending. Already, you stand apart.
Keep your materials neat, organized and presentable in a handheld portfolio that allows you to easily shake hands with potential employers and take notes. Don’t forget to bring along an abundance of your business cards. Notepad, pen and your calendar are also essential, the last in case a prospective employer wants to arrange a meeting or interview on the spot.
Do some research ahead of time when you know which companies will be represented at a job fair. Check out corporate websites, keying in on any job openings of interest that are posted. Read current, relevant news. Doing so will make conversation easier and more effective with company representatives. Asking intelligent, informed questions about such topics as the company’s recent accomplishments or future plans sets you apart from the other unprepared looky-loos or tire kickers as I call them.
Be patient and polite. Chris, a friend of a friend, is a high-level executive who stood in line for two hours just to get into the room where the recruiting booths were located. This is no time to wear your ego on your sleeves. Be patient, chat with the people in front and behind you. They are in the same outrageous line so make the best of the situation. Know that they feel the same way you do and it’s just part of the cost of admission. By the way, Chris got a great lead from someone while standing in line that made it all worthwhile.
What follow up steps should you take after attending a job fair?
Following up with recruiters and new contacts at a job fair is more than just an afterthought. How and when you follow up leaves as much of a lasting impression on potential employers as your on-site interview or conversation does. Maybe more so since it underscores your seriousness, determination and professionalism. You are fighting to get this job.
The day after a job fair, send a cover letter expressing your interest, a fresh résumé and a personalized note of thanks to each promising corporate contact. Remind the contact of your recent job fair meeting and your relevant career qualifications. Remember they probably met hundreds of people that day so make yourself stand out if you possibly can by mentioning something unique about your conversation.
If you committed to calling an employer, do so, but leave no more than two messages. This is important. Leaving too many messages does not signify admirable persistence. If you’ve done your homework and made a good impression, a phone call or two simply punctuates a job search done well. Phone messages also give the recruiter an opportunity to test your phone etiquette and communications skills. Anything more begins to smack of desperation and becomes counterproductive.
I met with a young man named Ryan. He had a good résumé and presented himself well. Our informational interview went fine. I said I would be in touch, and I meant it.
The next day, the fellow left me a message expressing his thanks for talking with him and reiterating his eagerness to find work. The day after that, he called again—same message. And again, the next day and the day after that.
This was too much. I went from being happy to help to dreading his next, inevitable call. I wondered whether he was doing anything else to pursue his goals besides calling me. He started to feel more like a stalker than a prospective employee. And nobody hires stalkers!
Once you’ve sent your letters and thank you notes, once you’ve made your calls, be prepared to wait. Employers and human resources personnel work according to their schedules—needs and priorities that you are likely not privy to. You are not the only job seeker they are considering. Be patient. Use the time to pursue other job leads.