By Louise Kursmark
Job seekers flock to career fairs like bees to a hive—and why not? They are a central source of potential employment and networking opportunities. So while you’re job hunting, make it a point to look for and attend job fairs, and follow these tips to make the event a worthwhile investment of your time.
1. Do your homework. Contact the organization running the job fair and ask for a list of companies that will be attending. Research those companies and choose 5 to 8 as your prime targets for the job fair. Be aware, though, that the advance list is not the final—some of your target companies might not be present and others that you haven’t researched will be. So be prepared to change your plan of attack once you are on site.
Great advice and resources for company research:
2. Get your resume ready. Job fair recruiters will look at literally hundreds of resumes in a day. Try to make yours visually distinctive while remaining professional, and write interesting and unique content. Proofread your resume very carefully and have someone else read it as well. Bring several dozen copies with you to the job fair, encased in a portfolio so they stay fresh all day.
3. Dress for success. Wear the same clothing you would for an important interview. Your goal is to present a great image and impress the recruiters with your professionalism.
4. Start with your target companies. When you arrive at the job fair, review the attendee list (remember, it probably won’t exactly match the original). Highlight the locations of your target companies and approach them right away. Then you can pursue other companies—secondary targets, new targets, or any other company that sounds interesting.
If your target companies are very popular, be prepared to wait or circle back when the booth is less busy.
5. Be ready with your introduction. Do you have a 2- or 3-sentence introduction of who you are, what you’re looking for, and why you’re valuable? If not, you’ll feel tongue-tied and awkward at the job fair, you’ll look unprepared, and you’ll waste an opportunity to make a great first impression.
6. Use your company research. As the final sentence of your introduction, add something that relates to what you learned about the company from your research, or something you know or have surmised. For example, “I was reading that XYZ plans to expand into Russia. That sounds interesting and a fit with my interests—I was a Russian minor in college and have studied Russian history extensively.” Companies like to know that you are targeting them specifically and that you know something about them, so use your knowledge to your advantage.
7. Prepare for the next step. It’s unlikely that you’ll have an in-depth interview at the job fair. Your goal is to make a good impression, establish potential interest, leave your resume, and capture contact information. Get the business card of each recruiter or write down their names, job titles, phone numbers, and email addresses.
8. Follow up. Of course it would be great if you started getting phone calls right after the job fair! But don’t sit around waiting. Reach out to every person you spoke with. Send a professional email with details about positions you’re interested in. Personalize your note by saying something positive about the company. Attach another copy of your resume. Keep track of all of your contacts and conversations, and follow each one through to the final stage—whether it’s a “not interested” message or, ultimately, a job offer!