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You know how important it is to network if you’re going to access the hidden job market—and career fairs are excellent places to network. Instead of going to a career fair with the intent to land an interview, go with the intent to network and see how many new people you can meet. RELATED: Are you ready for a career fair? Watch these tutorials! A career fair is a virtual smorgasbord of contacts who are already working in the field you’ve chosen. It’s also packed with people like you, who could end up being business associates one day. You might even meet a potential mentor at a career fair. Bring a great value proposition letter, copies of your resume, business/networking cards, and a willingness to talk and ask lots of questions.

Preparing for a Career Fair

Before you go to the career fair, make sure that you know which employers are planning to attend, and then do your research. Find out which companies are of interest to you. Then, prepare a value proposition letter that speaks to their needs, what you can accomplish, and how you add value. Include a link to your professional website or LinkedIn profile. Bring your resume in case someone asks for one, but I suggest a different approach to the usual take on career fairs. Instead of visiting each booth and passing out your resume, take time to speak to each person and give them a value proposition letter. You also want to prepare your elevator speech. Try to narrow down your pitch to 15-30 seconds—and make sure it addresses what you can accomplish, and how you add value. Employers always want to know these two things about a candidate, so don’t get caught up in your whole professional history. Focus on telling them what they want to hear.

At the Career Fair

Be sure to dress appropriately, and act professionally. The career fair is your opportunity to make a great first impression on a lot of people, and open the door to further interaction. Talk to as many people as you can—ask the questions you’ve prepared. If the person you talk to is just covering the booth, ask for a referral to a contact who is directly involved in hiring for the type of position you’re seeking. Be sure to take notes; you’ll never remember at the end of the day exactly who you spoke with. Thank people for their time, and ask if and when you can follow up.

After the Career Fair

Send a thank-you note to the company representatives you spoke with. Check your notes to find out who wanted you to follow up—and then do it. If there were any companies you didn’t get a chance to visit with, send them a value proposition letter. If you received the name of a decision maker who wasn’t at the career fair, then initiate contact with that person via direct mail, and send them a copy of your value proposition letter or your resume and cover letter. You would be surprised how many doors this will open up. One of the most valuable tools when tapping into the hidden job market is a Value Proposition Letter. It is tremendously successful at grabbing the hiring manager’s attention and showing them the value you offer as a candidate. Studies have shown that direct mailing a Value Proposition Letter to a decision maker results in an 85% success rate securing EMPLOYMENT within 90 days. That’s pretty substantial. You can learn more about them and see a sample a Value Proposition Letter here. While you’re networking I’d love to connect on LinkedIn! Feel free to send me an invite. Write a great resume in 15 minutes! This post was originally published at an earlier date.

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