When most people think of job fairs (also known as career fairs), they tend to think of a large group of recent college graduates standing in long lines to speak for five minutes with recruiters from several companies. In this economy, however, job fairs are a critical resource for job seekers of all stripes and they are opportunities that should not be ignored by anyone who is struggling to find their next great position. Attending job fairs can be an overwhelming experience for the uninitiated, but by properly preparing for the event and having a plan in place for how to connect with all of those businesses that are hiring you can approach the day with self-assurance and make the most out of the job fair experience.
The key to success in almost every realm is preparation. By doing the appropriate groundwork before the day of the fair, you can minimize the risk of feeling overwhelmed, present yourself with confidence and enthusiasm, and maximize your chance of making positive connections with the business representatives you meet.
Most fairs publish a list of exhibitors before the day of the event. Get your hands on that list and review which potential employers will be there so that you can pick out specific companies to target. After you've selected the businesses you would be most interested in speaking with, you can begin researching those companies on the internet. By investigating those specific organizations, you will be able to speak intelligently with their recruiter/representative and display the eagerness and level of interest needed to make the best possible impression.
Once you have performed the necessary amount of research on each of your chosen companies, begin preparing the documents you will need to bring with you on the day of the fair. Make sure that you have an up-to-date draft of your resume that has been reviewed by at least one other person and print out enough copies so that you won't run out. Print out the same number of copies of your reference sheet and be sure to reach out to those individuals so that they will be ready if they receive a phone call from one of the recruiters soon after the fair (it's also a good idea to reach out to your references on a regular basis just to let them know how your job search is progressing).
You may also consider writing a cover letter for the companies you wish to visit. However, this should be a very targeted cover letter, not a one-size-fits-all generic note. A cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd at a job fair, but not if it's filled with general information and doesn't speak directly to the company.
It may go without saying, but get a good night of sleep before the day of the fair and eat a decent breakfast – you may be standing and walking around for a long period of time and you don't want to run out of steam before you get the chance to speak with the representative from your dream company. Dress to impress – no jeans, no flashy jewelry or accessories, and no scandalous apparel – you want to make a great first impression and that begins with your outward appearance.
Approach the fair with a plan of action. When you first arrive, survey the venue to get an idea of the layout and where your target companies have set up booths/tables. Take a moment to prioritize the businesses you would most like to visit and which ones you will skip if there is simply not enough time to stop by them all. Also take into account that there will be a lot of other job seekers in attendance, so you may need to make some tough decisions and choose between standing in line for your top choice or visiting three or four employers in the same amount of time. By thinking of these situations before the fair even begins, you will be less likely to feel stressed out when those scenarios play out during the day.
As you make your way around the room, be sure to project an air of confidence. Speak clearly and loud enough to be heard by the recruiter or representative you are speaking with. The room is likely to be noisy, so you must speak loud enough to be heard and understood but not so loud that you are shouting at the other person.
Be prepared with an opening statement to share at each booth or table. Tell the recruiter a short summary of who you are, where you've worked previously (or what you studied in college), your primary skills, and the type of positions you're interested in pursuing. Offer them a copy of your resume (only provide your reference list if they ask for it) and if the conversation progresses from there make sure you are listening actively, looking the speaker in the eye, nodding when appropriate, and asking intelligent questions when the opportunity presents itself. At the end of the conversation ask them for their business card or any information that the company is handing out and leave with a good, firm handshake.
You may think that your work is done once you've left the fair, but you would be wrong. You can maximize your chances for success by following up with the recruiters you met during the fair and displaying genuine interest in the company and the opportunities they have available. Send a thank you letter to the representative you spoke with from each company thanking them for taking the time to speak with you, referring to any interesting aspects of the conversation you had, and reminding them of the skills you have to offer. You could consider following up with a phone call instead of a thank you note, however, keep in mind that you should not follow up too aggressively or you run the risk of being seen as a pest.
The final thing to do after a job fair is to look back on the day and review your performance. Think of any missed opportunities or interactions you wished had gone differently so that you can prepare for those situations at future events.
Attending job fairs can be stressful and overwhelming – there are so many companies to visit and so many other job seekers in attendance – but these events can also be invaluable opportunities to give your job search the jumpstart it needs. By preparing for the job fair and attacking the day with a strategy and well-considered plan you can not only minimize your stress levels but also ensure that you take full advantage of the chance to speak with numerous recruiters and representatives from a range of companies in a single day.