by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
There are many types of job and career fairs — from ones scheduled on campus for college students to industry-specific ones for professionals — but they all have one common theme: it’s a chance for a company to meet and screen a large volume of potential job candidates.
Whether you’re a college student new to the job-hunting process or a seasoned professional, these ten career fair strategies for job-seekers will improve your odds of not being screened out and should lead to a deeper level of satisfaction with your efforts and increase your chances of obtaining a second interview.
Keep in mind that career fairs should be just one small part of your entire job search process; however, they can be a successful part. Will these ten strategies guarantee you success? Of course not, but by following these strategies, you will be in position to strategically place yourself above many of the other job-seekers who are attending the fair.
The Ten Keys to Success at Career and Job Fairs
- Pre-register for the Fair. Some career fairs allow job-seekers to pre-register for the event, which usually includes submitting a resume or summary resume. With more fairs going to the Web, pre-registration will most likely become even more common. The idea behind pre-registering, of course, is that employers get a chance to prescreen applicants and possibly make note of applicants they want to meet at the fair. Does pre-registration guarantee that you will get noticed or that employers will even look at the registrations? No, but why would you not take advantage of such an easy step?
- Research Registered Employers. Many job-seekers go to fairs to “see the sights” and are not prepared to interview. You can get a huge jump on the competition by getting a list of the companies attending the fair and doing some research on each of the companies you want to interview with; don’t waste time with companies that do not interest you. While all of the recruiters will have company literature at their booths at the fair, you often can’t access those until after the interview. With so much information about companies on the Web, there is no excuse not to do your homework. A great site to help you with this strategy is our Guide to Researching Companies.
- Take Multiple Copies of Your Resume. Bring lots of resumes to the fair — at least two for each company for which you have an interest. If you have multiple interests or job objectives, make sure you bring enough of each version of your resume. For tips on writing a traditional resume, visit these resume resources. You should also bring scannable versions of your resumes. More and more recruiters are simply bringing these collected stacks of resumes back to the corporate office and scanning them into a database. Need assistance with developing a scannable resume? Then visit these scannable resume fundamentals.
- Consider Bringing Your Portfolio. More and more career experts are emphasizing the importance of career portfolios. These portfolios should include copies of your resumes, a list of references, and samples of your best work. While most career fair interviews are fairly short, there may be opportunities for discussing your portfolio with a recruiter — either over a short break or meal or during a second interview on-site. It is best to always be prepared no matter what happens. Read our article, Your Job Skills Portfolio: Giving You an Edge in the Marketplace.
- Wear Appropriate Attire. Conservative business attire is essential, even for those Spring Break beachside career fairs because image and first impressions are critical. Know what is the expected attire of your profession and dress accordingly. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. Read more in our Dress for Success section of Quintessential Careers.
- Develop Fair Strategy. You need to devise a strategy or plan of attack for the fair. You’ve already done the first step by researching the companies you are interested in. The second step is seeing if any new companies have registered when you arrive at the fair. The third step is surveying the layout of the fair and determining an order of interviewing. Some experts suggest meeting with your top choices first thing in the morning, interviewing with your other choices in the middle of the day, and returning to your top choices at the end of the day to thank them again for their time. But remember to stay flexible as your top choices may be the top choices of many, creating long lines that you may wish to avoid.
- Prepare for Interviews. You may only have two to five minutes to market yourself and protect yourself from being screened out, thus you need to make the most of your time. Many experts suggest that you develop a one-minute “commercial” that highlights the key benefits that you can offer the organization — and then use it at the beginning of the interview. Also remember the three keys to all interviews: make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and show enthusiasm. You should also prepare answers to interview questions just as you would any employment interview. The most common question you will face is something along the lines of “what are you here for today?” Seems like an easy question to answer, especially if you’ve done your homework and can tailor your answer to your interests and the company’s interests, thereby marketing yourself. Make sure you also have some questions ready to ask the interviewer. A great concluding question for you to ask is, “What do I need to do to obtain a second interview with your firm?” Finally, make sure to avoid poor communication bad habits, such as fidgeting, rocking, chewing gum, etc. Follow this link for more interviewing tips and resources.
- Manage Intangibles. There are several other things you can do to help make your career fair experience a success. First, don’t waste your time interviewing with companies you have no desire to work for; do make sure to interview with all the companies you do want to work for. Second, if you did not prepare for a company you want to interview for, try eavesdropping on several of the interviews ahead of you so you can better prepare; do also try to get some company literature from the booth before getting in line so you can read about the company while waiting; don’t just stand in line doing nothing. Third, do extend common courtesies, such as offering to get the recruiter a beverage or snack; don’t be upset if the recruiter has to take a break before your interview. Fourth, if your ideal company is hiring computer technicians and you want to work in accounting, do still interview with the company at the fair, being sure to leave the interview with the contact information of the person responsible for hiring in that area; don’t be discouraged and walk away.
- Network With Everyone at the Fair. Career fairs are all about networking. Of course, you are building a network with the recruiters — this task is your most vital. However, you can also network with your fellow job-seekers in terms of sharing information about job leads, companies, and their recruiting strategies and styles. There may also be professional organizations or employment agencies on hand at the fair, which are also good sources for networking. Learn more by visiting: The Art of Networking.
- Follow-up With All Key Recruiters. Don’t take the order of this key to mean it to be the least important; in fact, some would say it is one of the most important. You would be surprised at how few job-seekers actually take the time to follow-up their career fair interviews, thus when you do it, you will get an edge over the many others who do not. There are two main methods of follow-up. Some experts suggest actually calling the recruiter the evening of the fair and leaving a voicemail message thanking the recruiter again for his/her time that day. A more concrete and traditional method is to write a thank you note and mail it the next day to the address on the recruiter’s business card. In the letter, thank the recruiter for his/her time, restate your interest and qualifications for the position, reiterate your interest in a second interview, and make a promise to follow-up the letter with a phone call (and then make sure you do in fact call). You probably should enclose another copy of your resume to be sure. What should the letter look like? Here’s a sample thank you letter to a career fair recruiter.
Looking for more details or other strategies? Follow this link for more Job Expo and Career Fair Resources.
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.
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