If you’re looking for an opportunity to make an in-person connection with employers you might not otherwise have access to, consider attending job fairs as part of your job search strategy. Job (or career) fairs allow you to learn more about companies, talk one-on-one with company representatives and make an important first impression that might help you get your foot in the door with your next employer.
Preparation is critical to making the most of your job fair experience. Standing out from the crowd can be challenging when you’re competing with potentially hundreds of other job seekers for just a few minutes of a recruiter’s attention, according to professional development consultant Laura Katen (8 Ways to Stand Out at a Career Fair). It’s crucial to show up prepared and ready to face the day with ideas and strategies to help distinguish yourself from the crowd.
The Tri-Valley Career Center has developed two helpful tip sheets, Tips for a Successful Job Fair and Job Fair Do’s & Don’ts. The following are some of the keys to getting the most out of attending a job fair:
Do research in advance. Before the event, find out which companies will be there and, if possible, the types of job openings they are offering. Visit company websites to get some background information and use that research to prepare focused and specific questions. Demonstrating that you know something about the company can make an impression on recruiters because it shows a genuine interest and effort on your part.
Come prepared. In addition to any notes you’ve made from your background research, bring several copies of your resume, your portfolio of work if appropriate in your field, business cards if you have them, a pad of paper to take notes and extra pens or pencils.
Dress professionally. Dress as you would for an interview. Employers often make decisions based on first impressions, which can either open doors or close them.
Arrive early. If you have your list of targeted companies, arriving early can allow you to meet with potential employers ahead of others. Some employers take note of the eagerness of first arrivals, which helps make a positive and lasting impression.
Map out your day. If you have a priority list of companies that you want to meet with, locate those companies on the event map so that you can make the most of your time. You should also check to see if any additional employers have been added to the event that you would especially like to meet. Budget your time so that you’re able to check in with all the companies that interest you.
Be prepared to talk about yourself. As you approach an employer’s table, be friendly and confident, and be prepared to discuss your qualifications that are most relevant to the job or company. Practice your 30-second elevator speech (see our Tip Sheet) as an introduction, and prepare a few clear, concise examples to demonstrate your qualifications.
Listen, ask questions and take notes. Demonstrate your listening skills and ask questions that show you know something about the company. Make the screening process more of a conversation than an interview. Take notes so you can follow up later or include the information in your next cover letter.
Be Prepared to Network. Penny Loretto, Associate Director in the Career Development Center at a Skidmore College, says career fairs are all about networking (Job Fair Success Strategies). By networking with recruiters, other job fair participants, professional associations and employment agencies participating in the fair, you can increase your personal connections and improve your chances of getting called back for a second interview.
Follow up after the event. When you make a connection, be sure to get a name and contact information or a business card. Send a thank you card or email within 48 hours, sharing again your qualifications for any interesting opportunities. If a recruiter asks you to submit your resume online, do so within a few days of the event so that you’re still fresh in the company’s mind. Showcasing your ability to follow-up on leads will help set you apart from others.
How you approach a job fair can greatly affect the outcome. Arriving prepared and organized, maintaining a positive attitude, projecting a professional image and following up after the event can help you stand out and hopefully land your next job.