How to Thrive Before, During, and After Job Fairs
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.
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.
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.