Whether you're a recent graduate seeking your first position or an experienced professional in search of a new opportunity, attending job fairs is one way to network and find job leads. Job fairs allow you to meet hiring managers from various companies and industries -- all housed under one roof for the day. These tips will help you make the best impression.
Research Job Fair Companies
"When meeting candidates at job fairs, I like to see that they've done their research," says Louis Dennis, a human resources representative for State Farm Insurance Companies in Greeley, Colorado, who regularly recruits employees by attending job fairs. "Folks who can sit down with me already knowing something about the company and the types of jobs they're interested in are very impressive to me."
It's usually possible to obtain a list of employers participating in a job fair ahead of time. The best-prepared candidates will have already spent time researching corporate cultures and searching job listings on Monster and other sites. "If someone can say to me, ‘I'm interested in underwriting or claims' and can back up why they're a good fit, I'm immediately going to be impressed," Dennis says.
Develop Multiple Versions of Your Resume
After you've done your homework, tailor your resume based on your job objective, and consider bringing multiple versions to the career fair, says Christina MacGill, associate director of career programming for career services at Pennsylvania State University.
"Once candidates have done their research on participating companies, they can create a few different resumes targeting these," MacGill advises. "For example, someone interested in finance can research typical job titles and types of responsibilities and then create several different versions accordingly. They also might create one resume targeted to working for banks and another one tailored to working for the finance division of a large firm like GE."
You should also prepare a general resume without a specific objective. "That way, candidates can be prepared for any situation at a job fair by keeping their options open and having multiple resume versions ready to go," MacGill says.
Cut Through the Clutter
Having a concise resume to hand out at job fairs is crucial. "When I'm at a job fair, where the line can get eight-to-10 deep of people waiting to talk to you, I cringe when I see a resume that's more than a page and a half long," Dennis says.
"If the resume is cluttered and not easy to read, this is a problem," says MacGill, who coordinates career fairs at Penn State. "Employers get so many resumes at career fairs, and you've got to make sure your resume is easy on the eye, with the main information easy to pick up and quickly scan."
Bring Supporting Documents
Additional documents that could help support your qualifications will depend on your industry and career goals, but they may include a cover letter, professional portfolio, transcripts (usually for new graduates), reference list, letters of recommendation and job applications.
Use the information uncovered during your research to guide your cover letter development. You may have found names of HR managers, position openings and job requirements that will help you customize your letters. If you don't have this information, write a cover letter to go along with each resume version. The letter should provide an overview of your qualifications that meet the goal the resume specifies.
At the same time, supporting documents aren't as important as your resume, and some hiring managers won't be interested in dealing with the extra paperwork. Dennis says cover letters aren't necessary at a job fair.
Request a business card from each hiring manager, and jot down a few notes immediately after each conversation -- this will help refresh your memory when you follow up. Email or mail a thank-you note within 24 hours of the job fair.
"When I've met someone promising, I'm looking for them to follow up," says Dennis. "If they do, that's a sign of serious interest."
"We also recommend that after you meet with someone and learn more about specific positions, alter the resume and send an updated, customized version to the person you spoke with right away," MacGill says.
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Standing out—in a positive way—is no easy task. When you’re piled into a packed auditorium and competing with hundreds of other job seekers for just a few minutes of a recruiter’s attention, it’s crucial to show up prepared, ready to face the day, and knowing what it takes to distinguish yourself from the crowd.
So our guide to acing the career fair covers everything you need to know—from getting ready for the event to making a great impression and following up afterward. Follow these eight steps, and you’ll be on your way to landing interviews in no time.
Before the Event
1. Find Out Who Will Be There
Look—or ask—for a list of all the companies who will be attending prior to the event, and prioritize the ones you want to approach. This way, if you run out of time to meet everyone, you’ll at least be sure you’ve hit your top choices.
And while a career fair is a good time learn about companies, you should know a little about them before showing up. You’ll be able to ask deeper questions and get better information if you already have some background to work with.
So before you go, do some research about each company on your priority list and be prepared to tailor your conversations specifically to each recruiter.
2. Pack Your (Small) Bag
What should you bring to a career fair? Not much. Don’t carry a bulky briefcase or handbag—you want to be able to easily make your way across the room, have your hands free for handshaking, and not look disheveled. All you need is a small purse, plus a dark, plain folder to hold your resumes and any information you pick up at the event.
Bring at least 20 copies of your resume (more if there are more companies than that you’d like to meet with), a pen and paper for taking notes, and business cards (if you have them).
3. Dress for Success (and Comfort)
As with any interview, it’s important to dress professionally—but at a career fair, you want to be comfortable, too. Wear a lightweight outfit that won’t get too hot, and check your coat or leave it behind. And make sure your shoes are extra comfortable—you might be on your feet for several hours!
During the Event
4. Don’t Be Shy
As you approach each table, be friendly, be confident, and be prepared with something to say. Introduce yourself with a smile, eye contact, and a brief, firm handshake. Often, the recruiter will take the lead and ask you questions, but you should also have your elevator pitch ready—a 30-second soundbite of what you want the company to know about you. (Here’s how to craft one if you’re unsure.) To really use your time wisely, you should be able to concisely convey why you’re interested in the particular company and how your skills or qualifications suit the position.
But at the same time—don’t go too fast! Job seekers have a tendency to speak quickly, which comes across as rushed or nervous. You want to speak slowly and with interest.
5. Get Your Resume in Their Hands
One of the biggest mistakes job seekers make is not giving out their resume until the end of the meeting—at this point, the recruiter may have gotten interrupted or moved on to someone else. Instead, as you speak about yourself, hand your resume to the recruiter, and point out the places that substantiate what you’re saying.
This will draw her attention to your resume and make you stand out from the other faces at the table, too.
6. Give a Memorable Goodbye
You want the person you’re speaking with to know you’re interested in his or her company. So ask relevant questions—and also be sure to ask about next steps. You should also offer to come by the recruiter’s office for a longer conversation in person.
When the conversation is wrapping up, make sure to thank the person you’re speaking with for her time. Most importantly, request a business card! Believe me, there’s no way you’ll remember everyone’s names at the end of the event. Plus, you’ll want to have her email address so you can follow up.
After the Event
7. Follow Up
Within 24-48 hours of the career fair, send a thank you note to each person you met with, whether you’re interested in the company or not. Who knows—the next time you go to one of these things, the recruiter at that dull software company could be working for Google!
If you think the recruiter would appreciate a handwritten note, send one, but also send emails to everyone. And don’t copy and paste—it’s OK for your messages to be short, but you’ll want to personalize them to each company and recruiter.
8. Take Action
For the companies you are interested in, follow the recruiter’s instructions about applying for a position. If you need to submit your resume online, do so within a few days of the event so that you’re still fresh in the company’s mind.
And if there’s not a position available right now that’s a good fit, ask the recruiter if you can come in for an informational interview (asking is as easy as following this guide). Getting even more face time with the company is always a good thing!
It’s not always easy to stand out at a career fair, but if you arrive prepared and organized, approach the tables politely and well-practiced, and follow up the right way—you’ll already be ahead of the pack.
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