I’ve been involved with my share of job and career fairs over my 25+-year career, mostly at conferences that sponsor the event. The candidates who understand how to work a job/career fair tend to stand a better chance of getting followup contact with company representatives who are present.
There are basically two types of job/career fairs: Conference-sponsored events and non-conference-sponsored events. Conference-sponsored events are usually supported by employers with a connection to the conference profession. Non-conference job/career fairs typically have a variety of employers and industries represented.
Here are six tactics for maximizing your effort at a job/career fair:
- Plan in advance. Review the list of employers who will be present and which companies will be of interest to your expertise. Follow up by researching the targeted companies to get a feel for the corporate culture and type of work environment. Make a list of “A” employers and “B” employers to visit or schedule interviews.
- Memorize your pitch (value proposition). Your are the problem-solver and solutions provider they have been seeking, so sell them on the benefits of your expertise and how it will serve the hiring manager/company’s interests going forward. You should know every bulleted item on your résumé and be able to speak at length on each one. Be ready to answer the inevitable question: “So, tell me something about yourself…” Keep any idea of salary and benefits out of the discussion; you aren’t at that point yet.
- Dress for success. Regardless of the type of position for which you are interviewing, dress like the CEO of “YOU, Inc.” Remember the power of visual first impressions; dress for how you want to be perceived by company representatives. It’s human nature for the eyes to exert so much influence over that instant first impression.
- Establish your LinkedIn profile before attending the job/career fair. Many company representatives may first check your LinkedIn profile prior to your meeting. It’s a good idea to connect with the company representative on LinkedIn after the job/career fair.
- Bring plenty of copies of your résumé with you. Be sure you pull out that copy of your résumé from a nice leather portfolio or briefcase, not a plain file folder. Be sure to have a reverse-chronological version if you are changing jobs; have a functional version for changing careers. Make them perfect so you don’t have to apologize for anything when you hand a copy to the company representative. Bring with you a list of references, but unless you are asked for it, resist the urge to leave it and any other documents with employee representatives. They don’t want to be lugging reams of documents on the plane with them when they return to their home cities.
- Don’t be a Ralphie. In the hit seasonal comedy, A Christmas Story, young Ralphie brings to class a large fruit basket for his teacher. After the teacher thanks him, he remains at her desk, staring and smiling at her, oblivious to the cue that “the moment” is over. Don’t be a Ralphie. Recognize social cues that your interview time is over (interview times at job/career fairs are often abbreviated due to the number of candidates being interviewed). Don’t treat the meeting as an excuse to linger in the booth area or intrude on free moments between interviews. Close it out by controlling the follow-up. Think of the encounter as the first of several meetings or communications with the individual or the company.
Having access to a variety of employer representatives gathered in one location is sort of like speed dating: you want to show up prepared, be a great listener, and leave a positive first impression that makes the employer representative wanting to know more about you – perhaps even discussing a job with the company.
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Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies: Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). He leads career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations.
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