by Deborah Walker
In many cities and local communities, spring is career fair season. While these events sometimes prove disappointing, job-seekers who understand how to “work” career fairs use these events as powerful networking sessions leading to interviews with future employers. If you are considering attending a job fair soon, you’ll get more out of the event by following these three rules.
Career Fair Rule #1: Plan ahead
Know ahead of time which companies will attend the event. Decide which employers you are interested in contacting. Visit their Web sites to read their open job positions. For employers of primary interest, conduct extra research to acquaint yourself with them. The basics are enough: local, national or global; headquarters, branch or subsidiary; industry lifecycle (growing or declining), and number of employees locally. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll feel much more confident about speaking intelligently with company reps during the event. Take an employer list with you to make sure you don’t miss any important connections.
Career Fair Rule #2: Prepare your 30-second presentation
Since you know which employers you’re interested in and their job openings, be prepared to communicate your qualifications in a 30-second presentation or “elevator speech.” It shouldn’t sound canned or contrived, but it should include a few selling points that catch the rep’s attention for a few minutes. [Editor’s note: See our article, The Elevator Speech is the Swiss Army Knife of Job-Search Tools.]
A 30-second presentation is not difficult to develop. I advise my clients to reduce their resumes to selling points that fit on a 3 x 5 card. Use that information to answer the all-important question: “Why should I be interested in considering you as a candidate for a position with my company?” Now role-play your speech with a friend, or by yourself while driving, or in front of a mirror until your “speech” sounds and feels natural.
Your objective is to secure an after-event interview time before you l eave the booth. Don’t be afraid to ask for the interview.
Whether you’ve secured an interview or not, don’t leave the booth without speaking with someone and picking up their business card. After the event, use the business cards you’ve picked up from each booth of interest to re-establish contact and suggest an interview where appropriate. This is no time to be shy. Follow-up contact will put you on top of the candidate pile.
Career Fair Rule #3: Avoid the crowd
Avoid the noon to 4 p.m. crowd. If possible, come early before reps are bored, tired and hungry. Another reason to avoid peak times is that crowds can be intimidating. It’s much easier to talk yourself out of approaching important employer contacts when they are surrounded by other job seekers. Be aware also that some recruiters begin to pack up well before the career fair is over, so avoid arriving close to closing time.
Make sure your resume is in top-notch condition. Does it grab the reader’s attention? Does it communicate your best accomplishments? Does it sell you as a top candidate? Have several people proofread it. Most employers will want to store your resume in a computerized database. Since you’ll be distributing your resume in hard copy, be sure to follow up by sending a text-based copy electronically right after the career fair, and tell the recruiters you’ll be doing so.
It’s a fact that the best jobs go to those with the best job-search skills. Knowing how to make the most out of career fairs is a valuable skill that can cut weeks, even months, off your job search. What does that length of time equate to in potential earnings for you?
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Deborah Walker is a Certified Career Management Coach. Her expertise includes resume writing and career coaching. She holds membership in the National Resume Writer’s Association. As a former headhunter, her advice comes from an insider’s prospective based on years working with HR professionals and corporate hiring managers. Visit Deb on the Web. Or email her for a free resume critique/price quote at firstname.lastname@example.org.