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Job Fairs: How to Prepare So You Stand Out

job fairs

Job fairs can be a great opportunity for applicants to interact with many different companies. But if you don’t prepare adequately, job fairs can be a disaster. Last week, I attended a job fair – prior to the event I debated whether I should go. I had heard the horror stories about long lines that snake twice around the city blocks and the paltry company-to-applicant ratio.

In the end, I’m glad I decided to go. I had a good experience because the job fair had a good ratio of companies to candidates and I had very clear and realistic expectations going in (make contacts with Companies ABC & XYZ), which I fulfilled.

Here’s how to figure out what job fairs are worth a visit and to prepare for job fairs so you stand out among the other applicants.

Before Job Fairs:

1. Determine if this job fair is worth your time and effort. Look at the requirements for attendance – for example, some fairs require a 4-year degree, others don’t. Some fairs are specialized (i.e. teaching professionals or high-tech workers only), others are general. Look at the location (is it 15 minutes away? 3 hours away?).

2. Go over the company list (most job fairs would offer this information online) and pick 2-3 companies that are your top choices.

3. Spend 30-40 minutes researching your top choices, particularly on any programs / specific functions you are interested in. Spend another 10-15 minutes studying a few other companies that you are interested in.

4. Print out copies of your resume. Make sure your contact information is correct! I’d suggest 2 copies for each company you plan to visit. Then add another 5 just in case.

5. Get to the job fair early if you can. It’s an advantage to be among the first group getting in the door.

At Job Fairs:

1. Hit your top 2 or 3 companies first – they might become much busier later in the day (this was my experience).

2. Be attentive, engaging and personable.  Be proud of your accomplishments and don’t apologize for being out of work. Ask good questions that let recruiters know you’ve done your research, but don’t act like a know-it-all. Try to get at least 5 minutes of quality time with them, but don’t monopolize their time if there are other applicants waiting. Get a business card and thank the recruiters for their time.

3. Avoid job fair burnout. It’s probably unrealistic to go to each company’s booth – don’t pressure yourself to do so. It’s better to present yourself well to a smaller handful of companies than try to go see every company just for the sake of doing so. I decided that I had 3 places I wanted to go see, and everything else was just gravy.

4. Mingle with other candidates. I met a couple of nice people and exchanged information. Who knows, I might see an opening that they will be interested in, and maybe vice versa. Good karma never hurts.

5. Be nice and professional to everyone, including the hotel staff. One lady angrily exclaimed at the front desk that she won’t be paying for hotel parking because she has been out of work for a year and can’t afford the $10 fee. If a recruiter overhears her, what impression would that lady have created? (The job fair advertisement didn’t mention a parking fee, but a quick call to the hotel would have resolved that question).

After Job Fairs:

1. Follow up with recruiters from your top 2-3 choices and/or with whom you have established a rapport. A short and sweet email will do the trick.  Just remind them of where you met (job fair and date), reiterate your interest in the company, and thank them for their time. Attach a resume.

2.  Stop at the yellow light, especially if the intersection is in a revenue-hungry city has a Red-Light Camera. Seriously. Or else you will be end up like me and be out $500+. Hence rendering it a very expensive job fair, indeed.

  • me in millions - Ugh! What a bummer about the traffic camera! I hope the rest of the day was more successful for you!ReplyCancel

  • Sense - AGH! Over $500 for a run the red light ticket? Goodness gravy.

    Hope some of those contacts pan out for you!!ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Great post! Hope something comes up out of your new contacts.ReplyCancel

  • Rachelle - Great post. I’ll definitely be forwarding those tips to some friends of mine that are planning on giving up hope. Also, $500 for a red light? That’s ridiculous. My BF just got one but for $50…and we’re in NY.ReplyCancel

  • zeezee - If you dont have a job, fight the ticket! go to court and plead it downReplyCancel

  • sfordinarygirl - I had something similar happen to me as I left a job interview a few years ago. I forgot to make a full-stop at the stop sign and the cop instantly pulled me over would barely pay any money and I was unemployed, he cut me slack and reduced it to $150. But always follow the rules when driving. The fines are not pretty!ReplyCancel

  • How To Win Your Local Job Fair [Job Fairs] | Unit1 - […] this topic.Powered by WP Greet BoxThe anonymous, newly unemployed personal finance blogger behind Well-Heeled with a Mission put together a timely, helpful guide on how to avoid wasting your time at job fairs and actually […]ReplyCancel

  • mapgirl - I had great luck at a Job Fair after 9/11 when I was a contract temp. It saved my bacon in a time of great uncertainty. I carpooled with another unemployed friend and we saved gas & parking money.

    These are excellent tips. You simply cannot attend all the booths, so targeting the places you really want to work makes all the difference. Recruiters sense your excitement to work for them and that makes you stand out from a crowd of a zillion faces. Note that excitement is different from eagerness. Eagerness can come off as desperation. You want to exude that working for them seems like *fun*.

    You are so right about being gracious to the hotel staff. I’m guilty of being testy to people when I’ve had a bad day, but the hotel staff is almost always kind no matter what. (Helps that the last place I went to an open call was at a Ritz Carlton and I got the job.)

    This is going to sound like weird advice, but don’t stint on resume paper either. It’s really weird but sometimes I got to fairs where candidates have low-quality paper, and even if you have nice paper, the recruiting staff makes a crummy copy of your resume. I’d rather give the interviewer a fresh copy that is beautiful than look like everyone else.

    Sorry to hear about your speeding ticket.ReplyCancel

  • Foxie | CarsxGirl - Ouch on the fine, that’s just plain crazy. Revenue hungry is right… Hope that expensive job fair did some good!ReplyCancel

  • AK - Great advice, probably applicable to college/grad school fairs as well. About the red light camera- I also got flashed a few weeks ago for the same reason and never received a ticket, sometimes the actual human being reviewing the violation will cut you some slack. Has the ticket already come?ReplyCancel

  • Nicole - This is all great advice. The last job fair I went to I couldn’t believe how many people didn’t even bother to dress up, let alone engage with the company representatives at their booths! Good news is they made me look like a rock star.ReplyCancel

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  • Slinky - Good advice. I got my current and prior job at job fairs. Both times, I spent several hours before hand going through the list of companies that would be there. I first looked at job descriptions and locations since I wasn’t interested in anything too far out of town. That gave me a short list of places to look at. I then spent some time looking at the job listings/requirements and company websites. From there I was able to eliminate several other positions, and prioritize which positions sounded the most appealing.

    At the fair, I found it helpful to note the locations of everyone I was interested in. Then, I focused on the places I was most interested in, but also whoever wasn’t busy at the time. I’ve found it makes a better impression to walk right up to someone and introduce yourself than to hover around until they address you. :)ReplyCancel

  • Traffic Ticket? Maybe Not | Well-Heeled, with a mission - […] ago I thought a Red Light Camera got me going through a yellow light as I was coming home from a job fair. I saw a flash and was certain that I’d be on the hook for $500 in fines and traffic school […]ReplyCancel

  • Financial bodnage - I've always heard job fairs are a waste of time. You may find a job, but usually the leftover jobs no one wants. not sure if it's true or not. ReplyCancel

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  • Why You Should Use Numbers and Statistics in Your Resume | Well Heeled Blog - […] in California – 12.5% for the not-so-golden state). A few weeks ago a friend asked me to help update her resume for a job fair. There are a lot of helpful books on resumes out there, so I won’t rehash all of the […]ReplyCancel

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