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.