Be honest: The last time you went to a job fair, did you do more than fill out a couple of applications or toss your resume at a recruiter? Did you rehearse your qualifications while standing in line to meet employers or did you work the Sudoku puzzle in the local newspaper? Did you use the event as a chance to network with everyone, or stand alone and drink free coffee?
The sad truth is that many of those attending job fairs blow it. Instead of using it as a chance to make themselves stand out from the pack, these job seekers often blend in with hundreds of others attending the event because they haven’t prepared.
The key is remembering that job fairs involve more that just wandering aimlessly among the job booths. It’s a chance to meet and impress employers, network with the business community and hone your job search skills.
If you’re planning on attending a job fair, some important points to remember include:
· Doing a test run. If you’ve never attended a job fair before, consider attending one where you simply observe how it’s run. Ask organizers what is the best way to move through the fair, and who are key employers attending. Learn from attendees what works and what doesn’t – look for those candidates who seem to really capture the attention of the recruiters and stand out. What are some things you can learn from their behavior?
· Do your homework. Once you decide on the job fair, research the employers who will be attending. What does the company do? How many employees do they have? What is the mission statement? How could your skills fit into that environment? Use the Internet or call the company for an information packet before the event so that you’re prepared to ask questions of the recruiter. The candidate who can move beyond, “What does your company do?” will be noticed.
· Be organized. Once you’ve researched the employers, keep your information in files to be reviewed before each conversation. Don’t be worried if the recruiter sees your notes – it will show that you cared enough to do the research and are approaching the fair professionally. Don’t juggle a coat, papers, umbrella, coffee cup, etc. Carry your things in a professional tote or briefcase, and keep your coat hung up or neatly folded over your arm. Eat or drink away from the recruiter tables – keep at least one hand free to shake hands and accept business cards. If there is free merchandise, don’t try to keep track of that as well. If you don’t have a bag to store it, leave it. It’s much more important that you look professional, not like a kid at the carnival.
· Hone your message. You won’t have much time to meet with recruiters, and they will want to hear your qualifications clearly and concisely so they can move on to other candidates. Practice your promotional message that outlines your strengths and how you could be of value to the company. Look for specific strengths. Saying you’re a “people person” doesn’t say much, but saying that you are detail-oriented and thrive on helping solve problems tells the recruiter more.
· Look and sound the part. Dress professionally and neatly and make sure your breath is fresh and hair neatly combed. (Don’t chew gum.) Make eye contact and always offer a firm handshake. When you speak, make sure you keep your head up and pointed toward the interviewer. Job fairs can get noisy – don’t shout, but project your voice clearly.
· Take notes and get names. Have a pad and pen ready so that you can take notes from your interview. Keep the recruiter’s business card with your notes, and make sure you get an address so that you can send a thank-you note after the job fair. Your notes should keep track of particular interests of the employer, the qualifications being sought and where and when you can do further interviewing.