Here at The Execu|Search Group, we both attend and host career fairs for candidates of all experience levels. We understand that, should you be conducting a job search or simply scoping out your industry, such fairs are great networking tools and useful opportunities to market yourself as a jobseeker and a professional. However, many make the mistake of treating career fairs too casually. To be taken seriously by recruiters and prospective employers, you have to make it clear that you’re taking the fair seriously, not browsing it as one would the racks at a local department store. Here’s how you can take advantage of this opportunity and make it a success:
Pre-register. Many job fairs are now offering, and sometimes requiring, pre-registration for jobseekers. Whether it’s required or not, take advantage of the opportunity and submit your resume/CV if the option is available. This will give you a jump start on other candidates and ensure that your resume is available to those recruiters who want a first look at the fair’s attendees. Pre-registering where it is not a necessity will also show that you’re a proactive and eager candidate.
Prepare. If possible, get a list of the companies who will be there and create a cheat sheet for the companies you want to meet with. This way, you’ll have a refresher you can review prior to interviewing. Include any information you can: what positions are open, the company’s mission statement, a brief history of the organization, etc. The more informed you are, the more confident you will be and the better your interview answers will be tailored to each position.
Prior to the fair, prepare and collect your necessities: a stack of resumes, your portfolio, and a professional outfit fit for an interview. You will be much more calm and collected if you prepare these things the night before so you can focus on rehearsing your approaches the day of. Make sure to carry a professional bag with enough room to fit your resumes and any literature, business cards, and free give-away items like pens and highlighters. Keep these things organized and safe from wrinkling or ripping.
Develop a strategy. Career fairs give jobseekers one important opportunity they don’t usually get in the digitized world: a chance to make an impression and shine through the stack of resumes. With most job applications submitted online, it can be hard to stand out as an individual amongst the other applicants. Job fairs give you that opportunity through one-on-one contact with recruiters and employers.
Therefore, it’s important to have a plan. Know which companies you want to meet with and which will likely have the biggest lines. Keep a list of those that are top priority and those that fall second in case time falls short. As with any interview, know how you would respond to common questions (the biggest probably being, “Why are you here today?”) and make a list of questions you’d like to ask, yourself. Just be sure to do your research beforehand and know what information is already available on the company’s website and literature.
Also be prepared to be cut short. In most cases, candidates will only be given a short time slot to advertise themselves and answer a few questions. To maximize your potential, develop an “elevator pitch”—an introduction about who you are, what you can offer, and why you’d fit well into the company you’re interviewing with that’s short enough to be given in the span of an elevator ride—that you can give recruiters when you first meet. Everything after that can consist of your pre-planned questions and answers.
Follow up. Conclude your interviews and meetings with the questions “How can I go about securing another interview?” and “When would be best to follow up with you?” Then make sure to take down the recruiter’s information, in front of him or her if possible, and keep a list of those you met with or gave your resume to so you can follow up later. Make sure to do so politely and so on time.
Network. This may seem like the point of a job fair, but don’t only network with representatives and recruiters. Talk to your fellow jobseekers. You’ll be surprised at how many leads and tips you can obtain and how many people you can meet in your industry. Share advice and experiences and be cordial. As with any event, professional or otherwise, you never know who you may wind up meeting.