Career fairs can be beneficial events to attend because you can make many employment connections in one day, but as in all other phases of the job search process, preparation is the key to success.
A career fair, like a networking event is an interview in disguise. You have 30 seconds or less to tell the recruiter about yourself, quickly capture their attention, and entice them to want to learn more. "Yes", "No", and "Maybe" decisions are made about you on the spot. Typically recruiters have three piles - the "Keepers", the "don't know what to do with this person but I like them for something" pile, and the "I'm really not sure what this person was thinking" pile. Let's review the top five ways to improve your odds of landing in the first pile.
- Dress like you are going to an interview. A professional image leaves recruiters with a positive impression and will also improve your self-confidence, which is a must at a career fair.
- Bring at least 50 resumes printed on special quality resume paper. Running out of copies before the day is over won't get you into the Keepers pile.
- Do your homework before the event. Research the companies on the roster, and see which positions they typically hire for. Be prepared to speak with companies about specific roles that you might fit into, regardless of whether they are currently open.
- Prepare a short introductory statement about yourself ahead of time. Find a way to tell a recruiter what you are all about in 30 seconds or less and then end with a closing question such as, "would someone with my background be a good fit for your organization?"
- Make sure that your breath smells fresh as the day continues. You have less than one minute to make an impression - make a good one!
- Maintain good eye contact with the recruiter, and remember to smile! Smiling is contagious and if you're smiling, you'll both remember the experience more positively. Also be sure to offer a firm handshake.
- Avoid asking the question "What positions are you recruiting for?" Instead, be prepared to talk about what you can offer to the company and let them tell you what positions they have that might match your background.
- Ask each person for their business card and don't be surprised if recruiters "don't have any" or "ran out". Business cards might suddenly appear if you are a top candidate. If the recruiter does not offer you a card, at least ask for the correct spelling of his or her name. If you end up with a pile of business cards that have actual names on them, rather than generic ones, consider yourself to have had a very successful day.
- Try to visit each booth even if you don't think they have positions that match your background. You never know which unadvertised positions recruiters have up their sleeves. Plus, it's a great networking opportunity and provides you with practice delivering your elevator pitch. Recruiters that have shorter lines will have more time to speak with you individually.
- The day after the event, e-mail thank you notes to the recruiters you met. This is your chance to quickly remind them about your conversation and to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Less than 1% of candidates ever follow up, so this is an easy way to make yourself known.
- Absolutely Abby's Advice: By attending a career fair, you can learn a great deal about specific employers, practice effective networking, and perfect your elevator pitch. The key to success at a career fair is being prepared. So, do your homework, put on some comfortable shoes and then get out there!