Job fairs can offer you an inroad to employment opportunities you can’t find anywhere else. However, getting employed through a job fair is not automatic. You must play an active role in the experience to get something positive and useful out of it. If you enter a job fair with the goal of getting hired for a job on the spot, you most often leave the fair disappointed.
It’s actually much more common to begin the hiring process at this stage than to rush through it and complete it.
Making the most of job fairs starts with getting a clear understanding of what job fairs are for. Job fairs are about networking, collecting business cards and making good first impressions. Be realistic about what you expect to get out of a job fair. Otherwise, you may become disappointed and hurt your chances of building a stronger network at future job fairs.
Make a Plan
Job fairs can be overwhelming if you walk into them without any idea of your goals or strategy. You’ll see colorful tables manned by enthusiastic people eager to make their pitch, swarmed by equally enthusiastic would-be employees eager to stand out from the crowd. You can’t expect to visit every table and speak with every employer in the fair and walk away with a job offer.
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Instead, research the employers attending the fair ahead of time. Pinpoint the ones you want to speak with the most. Find out what they’re about and what matters to them so you can tailor your conversation appropriately. Employers appreciate when candidates take the time to learn about their history, corporate structure, products and services.
Leave room in your plan to discover unexpected opportunities as well. You never know what possibility may be around the next corner. Whatever your specific plan is, bring plenty of copies of your resume and get plenty of sleep the night before.
Dress for Success
Specifically, wear what you would if you were going to a job interview. While you don’t want to overdress for the occasion, appropriate clothing helps make a distinct impression with employers that a resume alone cannot make. Make sure your outfit and jewelry are appropriate for the occasion, your shoes are polished and your tie is ironed.
Big public events can bring out people’s insecurities. Big public events where people feel like they’re competing can be even more difficult. Part of succeeding at job fairs is overcoming those insecurities and putting your best self forward.
To conquer insecurity, embrace it. Allow yourself to be open and vulnerable. Make eye contact and smile amicably. When employers ask you questions, answer honestly and thoughtfully. At the same time, answer concisely, showing awareness and respect for their time.
Show your openness receptively too, by listening closely to anything the employer says to you. Ask questions when you’re not clear about something, and give relevant, proactive responses to show you’re listening.
Listen as well to the other attendees around you. You can learn a lot about what different employers are seeking through overhearing the conversations of others. Apply what you pick up from other attendees to the conversations you have with those employers.
As mentioned earlier, the main activity of job fairs is networking. Make the most of every moment there by meeting people, making a good impression and exchanging business cards. After the fair, it can be hard to remember the people each card came from and the conversations you had with them.
To help you link a face and a context to each name, keep a pen with you at all times and take notes after each conversation. On the back of the business card, scribble something to help you remember the face of the person with whom you spoke. Note an outstanding physical feature, like spiked hair or a bright yellow tie: Whatever best helps you recall the person associated with the name on a card. Then, write down something about your conversation with the person that you could reference in a follow-up note or phone call later.
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If you’re an extensive notetaker or work in a complicated field, don’t be afraid to bring a note pad with you instead of trying to fit everything on the business card. Staying organized is important, but limit the amount of notes you take during a conversation. Writing notes during a conversation shifts your focus from whoever you are speaking with. It can slow a conversation down if you’re waiting between questions to record every answer.
The exception is if your employer gives you specific information, such as handing you a business card, but telling you to ask for a specific individual or department when you call. In these circumstances, write the information on the back of the card, then add it to your notepad afterward.
One of the most important things you can do to make the most out of any job fair you attend occurs after the job fair is over. Follow up with the contacts you made. Don’t wait for employers to contact you. Instead, take the initiative. Contact hot job leads the next business day to thank them for the conversation you had together at the fair.
If you submitted your resume, let them know they already have it, and simply reassert your interest in working for them. Afterward, plan on contacting each one again in a week or two if nothing emerges to check in. Don’t be a nuisance, but don’t be afraid to put yourself forward as respectfully motivated and enthusiastic about the opportunity.
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