One of the biggest misconceptions is that job fairs are a thing of the past, but as a job seeker, this is your chance to choose which employers meet with you face-to-face. These events are great opportunities to network, learn more about companies in your area or industry, and make a good first impression with potential employers. In fact, face-to-face meetings are critical to your job search, so job fairs offer a unique opportunity to make personal connections with recruiters and decision makers at a number of companies — something online applications can’t provide.
But you can’t just show up and hope for the best. You need to strategically position yourself above all of the other candidates in the room, and the following can help:
1. Research the participants and plan out your day. Most employers expect candidates to know a bit about their organizations before coming in for an interview and job fairs are no different. Take the time to learn about the companies attending the event and get to know their missions, visions, and types of positions they hire for. While doing this, certain employers will surely hold more interest for you than others. Decide which ones you want to connect with and prioritize them. Map out where each will be located and when you’ll speak to them — and don’t forget to leave a little wiggle room in your schedule for those “wild cards.”
2. Prepare to talk about yourself. Think about your last interview. The conversation likely started with, “Tell me about yourself.” Work up a brief statement about yourself, what skills you bring to the table, and why you’re interested in working for that employer. Try to be as concise as possible. Time is limited.
3. Build a tool kit. Obviously, you’ll want to dust off your resume and make sure it’s up to date. After getting it in order, print out an ample supply and jot down a list of questions for each employer you plan to talk with. One of the easiest ways to look professional and prepared is to have a handful of questions ready. Consider asking potential employers to elaborate on information you learned during your research. Show your interest.
4. Make a lasting impression. A job fair is no time or place to be wallflower. It’s also not a time or place to be laidback, casual, and cool. Treat a job fair like you would a traditional interview by dressing the part and approaching the employer with confidence and enthusiasm, make eye contact, smile, and use a firm handshake. Employers notice the details. If you’re not dressed professionally and projecting confidence, you’ll likely stand out — and for all the wrong reasons.
5. Consider it a networking event. You may have shown up for a job, but it’s also an opportunity to connect with employers and other professionals in your industry. Take the time to chat with people standing with you in line. You’ll expand your professional network, and one of those new contacts could just lead to a job. You can learn a lot about potential employers by listening to the conversations they’re having with other job seekers. If you happen to overhear a valuable piece of information, incorporate it into your own exchange. It may just tip the scales in your favor.
6. Ask for information and keep it organized. Leaving a company’s booth empty-handed isn’t an option. Even if you’re not interested in a job, ask for a business card and pick up any available brochures. Each interaction is a good networking opportunity, and you don’t want to offend anyone by overtly showing disinterest. Jot down a note or two about the company on the back of the business card, and then arrange your “spoils” by interest level. Put the business card for the company of most interest at the top of the pile and work down from there, getting rid of any card you won’t use.
7. Follow up. For all intents and purposes, you just went on a series of interviews. That means thank yous are in order. Within the next 48 hours, shoot off an email thanking the recruiter for meeting with you. Note any points discussed during the conversation, and extend an offer to meet to discuss any opportunities further. You can also get to know the company a little better by following the company on social sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Job fairs are like any other part of your job search, the devil is always in the details. It’s one of the few opportunities to get in front of potential employers on your own terms, so you should never leave anything to chance. Prepare for the day like you would any other interview and the chances of standing out in the crowd will increase exponentially.