by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
As part of the celebration of Quintessential Careers's 15th anniversary, we're presenting lists of 15 tips on some of the most essential topics in college, job search, and career.
Here's our list of the 15 best tips for achieving success at career and job fairs.
- Start with a goal or objective. Career fairs are great opportunities to learn about local job opportunities, making initial contact with a recruiter that will ideally lead to a job interview. But career fairs are also great networking opportunities -- in which job-seekers can network with recruiters to obtain contacts for jobs in other parts of the country, as well as network with other job-seekers in attendance.
- Pre-register for the career fair. By pre-registering for the event, you can get a sneak peak at the organizations that will be attending the fair -- which should allow you time to conduct key research before attending. Go to each organization's Website and review its section on its values, missions, goals, as well as its careers/jobs section. Take note of how each organization describes itself and its workforce.
- Develop tailored resumes. Once your research on each prospective employer is complete and you have a set of keywords and phrases that each organization emphasizes, develop a tailored resume for each employer. You'll be amazed at easy and effective this strategy can be -- for career fairs, but also for all your job-hunting.
- Map out a fair strategy. Enhance your chances for success by developing a plan of attack -- actually map your route of organizations you plan to visit, in priority order. Place the prospective employers that have the best fit and with which you have the most interest first on the list -- and work your way downward.
- Have a clear career focus. Be prepared with an answer to the one of the first questions each recruiter is going to ask you: "So, why are you here?" Providing a sharply defined response will help you stand out from other job-seekers while also providing key information to the recruiter.
- Sharpen and rehearse your elevator speech. An elevator speech is a relatively short -- typically 15 to 30 seconds (though sometimes as long as a few minutes) -- commercial that job-seekers use in a variety of situations -- such as a career fair -- that succinctly tells the person you are giving it to who you are, what makes you unique, and the benefits you can provide to the prospective employer. Your elevator speech can be a great response to the typical interview question, "tell me about yourself."
- Prepare and practice responses to typical interview questions. Unless it's a really slow day at the fair, you probably won't get asked too many questions, but it is always better to be over-prepared than flub your responses. Focus on traditional interview questions -- including ones recruiters love to ask: "Tell me what you know about our organization" and "why do you want to work here?"
- Sketch out a few questions you can ask each recruiter. Just as in any interview situation, you should always prepare a few questions to ask the recruiters you meet at career fairs. Remember not to ask really obvious questions or questions you could easily answer from visiting the organization's Website.
- Choose an appropriate attire for the fair. For most career fairs -- certainly all professional career fairs -- proper dress consists of a clean-cut, well-fitting, conservative look featuring darker colors (such as navy, black, slate). You'll also want to be well-groomed with minimal jewelry and cologne/perfume. Plan to bring along some breath mints (not gum) too.
- Organize things the day before. Gather all the copies of your resumes -- including a few of your generic version for any last-minute attendees, along with a pad of paper (for jotting notes), pens, networking cards (great for exchanging with other job-seekers at the fair), and your career portfolio (if bringing one). Preparing the day before helps lessen the stress on the actual day of the fair.
- Review and revise your fair strategy as soon as you arrive. Once you arrive at the fair, confirm the employers you're most interested in are in attendance and review the list for any last-minute additions. Make any necessary adjustments to your strategy and make a beeline for your first interview.
- Make a good first -- and lasting -- impression with each recruiter. Wait patiently in line for your chance to chat with the recruiter, using the time to compose yourself and review your employer-specific resume. Once you get your chance to chat with the recruiter, greet him or her with a warm smile, strong eye contact, and a firm (and dry) handshake. Do not overstay your welcome; be friendly, make your pitch, and move on so other job-seekers also get a chance.
- Don't leave without contact information on each recruiter. As you wrap up the interview with the recruiter, thanking him/her for the time, pause to look around the table for a business card. If you don't see a card on the table, ask for one -- that way you'll have the recruiter's full name and contact information, which you'll want for writing a thank-you note.
- Jot down notes as soon as you are done with each recruiter. As soon as you get finished talking with one of the recruiters, walk away and take a moment to write down any key points that were discussed and any questions or concerns that were raised. You'll want to use some of this information in your thank-you note, and the rest, perhaps, in your next interview.
- After the fair, write thank-you emails to recruiters. Once you've achieved your goal and met with all the recruiters on your list, your immediate next step is to head to a computer and compose individual (and specific to your talks) thank-you emails to each person you spoke with at the fair. If you also achieved some networking, you don't have to rush and send those folks an email, but it's a nice touch -- and a good way to be remembered. Don't forget to follow-up with each recruiter a week or so after the fair.
Final Thoughts on Career Fair Success
Remember that a career fair is a combination of a sprint and a marathon. You'll want the quick acceleration for the short time you get to spend with each recruiter, but the endurance and pacing to make it through a long day of meeting and greeting. Stay focused on your goal and you'll end the day with a few job leads, lots of quality information, and some new network contacts.For more information, see our 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.
Enhance your career! Take advantage of all of our expert free career development advice, tools, and more in our Career Resources Toolkit for Job-Seekers.