How to Thrive Before, During, and After Job Fairs

by Daniel Packer on 10 May 2011 2 comments
Photo: RDECOM

I remember my first job fair very well. During my senior year of college, I entered the large room with a folder full of resumés and a map of where in the room each employer was located. As I looked at the map, I realized two things: I had no idea what any of these companies did, and I had absolutely no plan. Panic started to set in.

After some wandering, I made up a pitch about my experience and goals and headed over to a table that surprisingly had nobody waiting in line. After giving my 30-second life story, I found out that the company was only interested in graduate students. Rejected! The only positive that came out of it was that I gained some practice without ruining and potential opportunities. But it showed just how unprepared I was.

After having little success, I went home dejected. Three months later, I was given another opportunity, and this time, I wasn't going to let it go to waste. So I developed a plan of attack. Mission — find a job.

Here are tips I used for that job fair, and ones that you can use to ace your job fair experience.

Research, Research, Research

As much as a suit and great resumé will help, knowing which companies are going to be there and how you could fit in is much more important. (See also: Standout Stuff for Your Resumé and LinkedIn Profile)

Make a list of companies you are interested in, find out what they do, and if you can, go a step further and find positions you are well suited for. You'll really impress them if you bring up a position you have skills for and describe how you would be a perfect match.

Mark the companies you like on a map. You'll spend less time wandering while looking clueless, and you'll maximize the time spent talking to employers.

Interact

The goal of a career fair is not to simply hand your resumé to a company representative and walk away. There are no prizes for giving away all of your resumés, and you want to make an impression that will last all the way through the review process.

Ask questions! You're not simply hoping to get hired, you're also looking for a company that you want to work for. Bonus points for targeting questions to specific companies. At the end of the conversation, ask for a business card or contact information so you can follow up later.

After leaving an employer's station, spend a few moments taking notes. Write down positives, negatives, and the things discussed before running off to another employer. This will help you later when you're trying to remember which companies you'd like to continue pursuing and which ones you shouldn't waste your time with.

Follow Up

In about ten minutes, you can craft a personalized email or better yet, a handwritten letter. Sending a note a day or two after the fair will show you're genuinely interested, and thanking someone for their time is always polite and sheds a positive light on you. Try to incorporate some part of your conversation (that you took notes on!), and you'll show that you were paying attention and would be someone great to work with!

As it turned out, I was interviewed by one of the companies at the job fair, and that ultimately turned into my current job. Mission accomplished.

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Meg Favreau's picture

I think that prep work is definitely key to set yourself apart -- employers can see hundreds of people at a job fair.

Does anybody else have suggestions for strategies that work well at job fairs?

Guest's picture

I do a fair amount of recruiting entry level engineers at career fair for my company. Those are all really good points, I find that I speak to about 50 - 100 doe-eyed graduates seeking an internship or full-time job. I can tell you that most of the recruiters at these fairs won't remember you ten minutes after you leave, unless you make sure to chat them up about some of their interests in addition to doing a lot of research on their organization.

I put great communication skills at the top of the list, followed by initiative, then experience and education. Let's face it when you are fresh out of school we are going to have to train you and teach you how to do your job anyways and nobody expects you to be an expert on your first day.