Job fairs require strategic approach

The allure of the job fair is that you have a large number of employers under one roof; presumably, all with open positions to fill. However, the number of job seekers at the fair is likely to far exceed the number of available jobs. You are basically taking a leap of faith that you will stand out in the sea of candidates flowing by the recruiter’s booth.

In August, more than 3,000 job seekers flooded an Atlanta job fair hosted by the two Georgia congressmen and the Congressional Black Caucus. The job seekers were vying for positions at the 90 employers in attendance, all of which had job openings to fill.

In September, an estimated 5,000 people turned out for the JobQuest Job Fair in Honolulu. Many of those in attendance were military veterans hoping to find positions at one of the employers specifically looking to hire former military personnel.

In Park Ridge, Ill., nearly 1,000 people attended a relatively brief four-hour job fair in the hopes of landing a position with one of the 63 employers represented.

Despite the slim odds for success, job seekers should not entirely dismiss job fairs.

The employers attending are usually there to fill specific openings. The chances of them hiring you are small, but the chances of them hiring you are zero if you don’t show up at all. In this job market, many job seekers are correctly deciding that a small chance is better than no chance.

There are steps you can take to increase the odds of success at a job fair.

You cannot go in blind or without a plan. It is important that you know which employers will be there and the types of positions they are trying to fill. Only visit those that align with your objectives.

If there is an opportunity to interact with the recruiter, time will be limited. So, it is critical to have a succinct script that highlights your skills, experience and strengths.

It is also critical to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude throughout the job fair. You may already be carrying a lot of frustration related to your job situation. That frustration may be heightened by the job fair process, which typically has you waiting in long lines, surrounded by others who are equally frustrated.

This frustration, while natural and understandable, should not be on display at any point during the job fair. Anything short of a bright and cheery attitude is likely to eliminate you from consideration.

Most importantly, don’t put all of your job-search eggs in the job-fair basket. A successful job search requires a multifaceted approach. Those who rely on just one tool will take longer to find a position, even if it is networking, which is considered by many to be the most effective job-search strategy.

So, by all means, attend every job fair that comes to town. But, don’t neglect the other tools at your disposal, such as online job boards, networking groups, social and professional networking websites, newspaper ads and simply cold-calling employers.


n Dress as if you were going to an interview. Wear neat, pressed clothes and shined shoes. Cover tattoos, if possible. No visible body piercings (other than earrings on women).

n Smile. This is your chance to make your best first impression. Remember your image: I am a professional, I have no problems, I will create no problems, and I will solve all your problems.

n Be yourself. Don’t play a role, but be your best self.

n Shake hands. Be enthusiastic. Show interest in the company and the company representative. Know what the company does.

n Sell yourself. Treat this like an interview. Tell the company representative what kind of employee you are, what you can do for a company and give some examples of each.

n Make sure you understand each company’s application procedure, whether paper or online. Ask for a business card for proper information. Fill out applications completely and neatly. Include a copy of your resume when returning the application.

n Approach each employer’s table by yourself, not with a friend or as part of a group.

n Bring plenty of resumes. Put them in a folder or portfolio so they don’t get crushed. You can also use the folder to hold any brochures, literature, applications and business cards you collect. Don’t give out your resume right away. Talk to the company representative first.

n Remember to be positive, prepared, polite and polished.

John A. Challenger is chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., an outplacement consulting firm. His breadth of knowledge on corporate practices, workplace issues, the economy and societal trends is sought out by major broadcast and print media.

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