With the advancements in technology, it’s easy to dismiss the importance of face-to-face contact in the hiring process. However, job fairs, while time-consuming, can be an important element of your job search campaign. These tips will help maximize your success.
1. Read a list of which companies are going to be at the fair. Check out both the list of companies that are going to be there, as well as which positions they are trying to fill. Plan your job fair strategy by using these lists. (Hint: Make sure you aren’t reading the list from last year’s job fair. Some job fair organizers tend to use the list from the previous year in their advertisements, so read carefully.)
2. Develop a game plan. Which companies do you want to visit with? Make sure that your 1st choice company isn’t your first stop at the job fair in case you get an unexpected case of nerves! Practice on another company or two instead. You’ll want to be comfortable introducing yourself, talking about your skills, and which jobs you’d like to do. You’ll also want to confidently address their concerns, such as why you didn’t complete an internship, or why your GPA isn’t as high as that of other candidates.
3. Arrive early, and allow yourself plenty of time to actually attend the job fair. Parking will probably be more of an issue than you realize. Also, many company representatives tend to pack up and leave the job fair early, so plan to attend during the beginning of the fair, rather than the end.
4. Try to wear something with pockets so you can easily stash your car keys and the business cards that you are given. Try to stash your purse and coat so you don’t have to lug them around with you all day. Definitely leave the backpack at home.
5. Network with as many people as you can. Don’t be shy about talking to other candidates in line with you, for example. Other candidates can be great sources of information. Also, don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the representative from your “dream company”, even if they aren’t currently hiring for your field. You can still learn about their application process, and about potential openings in your field that might be coming up in the near future.
6. Dress professionally, even if you are just picking up information and aren’t ready to actually pursue a job right now. You never know when the right opportunity will present itself, so be prepared! Besides, you'll feel more confident if you're dressed appropriately.
7. Don’t expect too much. Use the job fair as your chance to ask questions. Find out more about their hiring timeline. You might also ask the recruiter if they know any of your professors; if so, perhaps that professor would be willing to contact the company on your behalf at a later date.
8. Don’t get discouraged when the recruiters tell you to fill out an “online application”. Most companies will probably not even accept a “paper” resume from you at the job fair. Trust me, you still want to project a friendly, interested persona, even if you learn that their entire application process is online. Even though computers are used to organize applicant information, it is still PEOPLE who make the hiring decisions, so you want to make a great impression with everyone that you meet. Job fair recruiters talk to hundreds of people at each job fair, and it is far easier for them to remember the disgruntled candidates. You don’t want to be in this category!
9. Don’t bring kids, pets, or rowdy friends with you. If a rowdy friend wants to tag along with you to pick up free Frisbees, highlighters, and other promotional items, don’t let them! Instead talk to the recruiters yourself, and meet up with your friends later.
10. Speaking of promotional items, don’t act more interested in the company’s give-aways than you are in their employment opportunities! Trust me, this is a huge turn-off for nearly all employers. Sure, it doesn’t seem fair when the job-fair organizers give you a big plastic bag for your “loot” as soon as you walk through the door. But, as a former recruiter, I can remember listening to other recruiters complain about the candidate who took three Frisbees for their dog and those who said stuff like, “Oh, I’m going to take a handful of your candy because I haven’t eaten since breakfast!”
11. Don’t complain to the recruiter. This means not whining, “Why haven’t you called me? I emailed my resume to you eight times already!”. It also means not complaining, “My favorite uncle got laid off from your company 14 years ago, so I would never work for you.” Even if you don’t want to work for a particular company that is represented at a job fair, being rude is never a good idea. REMEMBER: The job fair recruiter is the “face of the company” for that particular event. He or she is most likely not the same person who fired your friend, laid off your uncle, or forgot to call you back.
12. Remember, recruiters know each other. If you are rude to Recruiter A, don’t assume they are going to keep that information to themselves. Recruiter A might very well be sitting at a break table sharing a Coke with Recruiter B, who happens to represent your “Dream Company”. Guess what they are probably discussing? Rude candidates! So, even if your presentation was flawless with your “Dream Company”, that recruiter might think twice about calling you if they happened to hear about your rude behavior at the other company’s table. Remember, recruiters are looking for reasons to dismiss people from the hiring process, so if you show evidence of questionable judgment, you risk being cut from the competition.
13. Follow up after the fair. If you are asked to submit your resume online, do it. If you are asked to forward a list of references, do that, too. Send a quick, professionally written email to the recruiters that you met, thanking them for their time at the fair, and letting them know how much you’d love to work for their company.
14. What if your top choice company wasn’t able to make it to the fair for some reason? Contact the job fair organizers and get the name and business address of the person that was supposed to be there. Send them a polite letter, telling them how much you were looking forward to speaking with them. Include your resume, and follow up with a phone call a week after you mail it, if necessary.
Some final words: Yes, you can stand out from the crowd at your next job fair. Sure, it will take some preparation and savvy on your part. But, the extra effort that you put forth will go a long way in demonstrating that you are ready to leave your college days behind and step into the professional world.