Often – very often, in fact – I am asked about career fairs. Are they important? Should I go? Should I spend all that time? Do people really get jobs by going to career fairs?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes! And if you come up with any more reasonable questions, the answers will be the same. Attending career fairs is an exceptionally good job search strategy – it’s another tool in your bag, another integral part of a comprehensive job search – and it just so happens that a career fair is coming up this week.
Agreed that not all career fairs are good for everyone, you should make them an integral component of your job search. But make sure to do this right, and that means the following:
Scheduling. By doing a basic search, you’ll find career fairs planned for several months out in your area, industry or occupation. Companies that run these fairs – very often your regional newspaper – have employer lists on their web sites, lists that grow each day as the fair approaches. Keep these sites in your sights, check them regularly, and you’ll determine which fairs you would best attend. Mark them on your calendars – and then get thee to the fair!
Preparing. As in any other job search activity, preparation is key, and that means establishing your goals for the fair (it’s more than “Duh, get a job.”); researching the companies by doing more than a quick scan of their web sites (this is where your public library and their very smart, resourceful reference librarians can be of immeasurable help; make your A, B, and C lists of employers; plan your day by checking the floor plan ahead of time so you’ll know exactly where you’re going when the doors open; getting there 30 minutes before opening so (if registration hasn’t happened on line) you can register and get ready to be one of the first to enter; prioritize your visits to their tables; bring what you need, including a portfolio, a pen (really, some people need to be reminded), twice as many copies of your resume as you think you need because, hey, you never know; and (not kidding here) a positive attitude, a smile, a firm handshake, eye contact, and plenty of good questions; and a “punchy” 15-20 second intro – “Hello, I’m Mary Smith. I have an associate’s degree in business from [the community college] and 4 years of experience in market research. I think I’d be a great fit for the marketing position at [Company] because of my past experience.”
Understanding the game. From your point of view, there are seven reasons career fairs are a good idea:the chance to make a good first impression, you can meet employers face-to-face, there’s nothing like a smile and a handshake to start things off, in-person meetings increase chances of getting interviews, you can learn more about the company than you did from their web site, you can expand your network (both employers and job seekers), and – how ‘bout this – you could even get a job! And from the employers’ point of view – or, at least the smart ones – they love career fairs because fairs are a highly interactive front end of the recruiting process, much more vibrant and illuminating than simply receiving tons of cyber-resumes. It’s your chance to make that great first impression. Start by...
Showing up like a professional. This is really simple. Conservative business suits and shined shoes. Men, a small patterned or fine striped tie; women, small, tasteful jewelry and a conservative scarf. Hide your tattoos and piercings, and keep the cologne/perfume in the bottle that day (smelling like the cosmetics counter at Bloomie’s is not a good idea). Big hair and untrimmed beards – basically, bad grooming – are killers.
Controlling yourself. There are serious taboos. Dressing inappropriately loud is the first. Grabbing all the freebies employers have on their tables – pens, nerf balls, goofy little furry things, mints, key chains, and all manner of unnecessary paraphernalia – is a major taboo, and it’s not why you’re there. You’re there for a job.
Not hanging around too long. Once you’re done, leave. Candidates who hang around, even hovering at booths, hoping to get another chance to talk, are not welcome. You’re being
either a pest or a stalker, and neither one will move you forward.
Following up. Even though this is after the fair, it’s really part of the fair. Follow up immediately via email – and then by phone or letter. If you do this later in the same day as the fair, then the recruiters you just met will get your email first thing in the morning when they return to work (or maybe even that day when they check their smart phones). For sure, not all recruiters give out their emails, but the ones whose cards you get (even though it may list a general email box) will be impressed.
There you have it – in a nutshell, of course because discussion on all these points can be expanded. But they should all be rather clear and not in need of explanation. In other words, in one of my mother’s favorite expressions, a word to the wise is sufficient.
Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and "like" him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.