Making the Most of a Career Fair
Career fairs add a personal touch to a job hunt that often takes place mostly online these days. Use these techniques before and during a career fair to help you make a better impression.
Before a Career Fair
1. Clarify your purpose. Know what you want to achieve. You may be looking to line up interviews with specific companies as soon as possible. On the other hand, you may be at a stage where you want to learn more about organizations that interest you.
2. Research each fair. Visit the website for every job fair you attend. Get familiar with the sponsor and the employers who are expected to attend. Do more extensive research on the companies that look like the best match for you.
3. Polish up your resume. Proofread your resume and bring along multiple copies on high-quality stationery (for in-person events). If you consider jobs in more than one field, make different versions emphasizing your most relevant qualifications.
4. Rehearse your opening lines. Expect to make a brief introductory speech at each booth you visit. Practice stating your name, summarizing your background (including a couple of top accomplishments), and describing the position you want. Keep at it until you can do this in fewer than two or three minutes and sound natural doing it. Read about the Perfect Elevator Pitch.
5. Recruit a friend. Attending these events solo is fine, but you may also benefit from the support of a friend. Touch base at strategic intervals to encourage each other and share feedback.
6. Dress to impress. Business casual is usually the way to go. Good grooming, simple accessories, and dress pants and shirts are a safe choice. Ensure your shoes are comfortable enough for hours of walking and give them a quick shine on your way out the door to the event.
7. Volunteer your services. Volunteering is a great way to get inside information and make personal contacts. Call the organizers in advance to see if they can use your services.
During a Career Fair
1. Get there early. By arriving early, you catch the recruiters while they’re still fresh. They are also more likely to remember you during the relatively quiet first hours than after the crowds build up. For online fairs, there can be a maximum number of attendees, so login 10–15 minutes early.
2. Focus on your top prospects. Make a list of companies you think you must see. Budget your time so that you can talk with all your best leads. Have done your research on LinkedIn and begun to follow those prospects online.
3. Give yourself plenty of time. Schedule more time than you think you need. You’ll be able to take advantage of any additional opportunities, and you can always go home early if you finish ahead of time.
4. Be friendly. Remember to smile, shake hands when it’s safe, let people know you’re glad to meet them and that you’re enthusiastic about their organizations. Employers evaluate your personal qualities as well as your skills and experience. For virtual fairs, have great lighting, dress professionally, make good eye contact, and still use it rather than moving around while your camera is on. Avoid lying down on a bed or sofa, sit upright at a desk or table, and pay close attention to your surroundings.
5. Take it easy on the give-away items. All those free key chains and water bottles may look tempting. To maintain a professional appearance, limit yourself to what you can carry inconspicuously in your briefcase or tote bag.
6. Be prepared to follow up. Get the name of everyone you speak with and clarify the next step in the process. Send a prompt and personalized thank you message to express your appreciation and keep the communications going.
A career fair is a valuable opportunity to network and introduce yourself to employers. In-person events are rarer than they used to be. Attend when you feel comfortable, wear a mask as recommended, practice social distancing, and respect the health and well-being of everyone around. Keep using the usual online tools but add these events to the mix to make your job search as rewarding as possible.
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