Recently, I attended a local job fair and spoke to several of the employers to solicit their response to the following question: "If you were to offer one tip for job seekers attending a job fair, what would it be?"
The two answers given most frequently? "Dress professionally" and "Communicate what you want and what you have to offer." This seemed like common sense to me, but considering how many employers mentioned these two things, it occurred to me maybe it goes beyond common sense and falls into the category of "you don't know what you don't know."
So, for those who don't know, here are 10 valuable tips to help job seekers find success at job fairs.
1. Dress Professionally
The general rule of thumb is to dress one level above the job for which you are applying, or what the usual dress code is for the companies you're interested in. For some, this may mean a suit and tie; for others a pair of khakis, polo shirt, or button-down collar. It's not okay to "pop in" to a job fair on your way home from the gym or grocery store. Plan your attire carefully. Choose a color that accentuates your best features and make sure it is comfortable. Sneakers and flip flops are never acceptable.
2. Communicate What You Want And What You Have To Offer
Employers are amazed at how many people attend job fairs hoping the employer will play the role of a career counselor or engage in a game of "20 Questions." Prior to attending a job fair, prepare a 30-second introduction and career overview, also known as your "personal branding statement." Include the following:
- The kind of work you do
- The number of years of experience you have and in what industry(ies)
- Some of your areas of expertise and/or key skills
- What you hope to find in your next job/do next in your career
Write it down and practice it until it rolls off your tongue and feels comfortable.
3. Know What The Company Does
Look up the sponsor(s) of the job fair, find out which companies will be there, and do some research. What is their product or service? Who are the customers they serve? What kinds of positions exist within the company? What skills are they looking for? Find out which employers are the best match for your skills and experience and target them before you arrive.
4. Plan Who You Want To Talk To And In What Order
You probably will not have time to talk to everyone. Look over your research notes and decide in advance which companies would be the best match for your skills and experience. Plan to visit the "maybe" companies first and save the really important ones for last. This way you can work through some of your nervousness before you present yourself to the companies that really matter.
5. Bring Your Resume
You should bring sufficient copies of your resume for the employers you plan to target. Make sure your resume is customized for the kind of job you are seeking, focuses on accomplishments, not responsibilities (quantify your work experience), and is two pages or less. Several employers I spoke to mentioned receiving resumes that were as long as five to ten pages! Do not fold your resume or place it in an envelope either!
6. Ask Questions
The main purpose of attending a job fair is to gather information, network, and establish a connection with your target companies. What do employers look for in an employee? What are some of the current challenges they are facing? What kinds of positions exist within the company? How do they screen and make their hiring decisions? If you attend a job fair hoping to walk away with a job offer, you will probably be disappointed. If you attend to gather information, you will always walk away a winner!
One word of caution: this is not the time or place to ask "What do you pay?" or "What are your benefits?" These topics are best discussed when an offer has been made or is pending.
7. Be Aware Of Proper Etiquette
From the moment you enter the job fair, you're "on stage." Don't smoke or chew gum. If there are refreshments, save them until you are ready to leave. Don't bad-mouth your current or last employer. (When one employer asked a job seeker why they were looking for work, they were shocked when the job seeker answered "Because <employer name> is a real #! @.") Give a firm and confident handshake. Smile. Make eye contact. Turn off your cell phone. Don't monopolize the employer's time.
8. Make Your Objectives Known
Employer's report many attendees seem to be "just browsing" or are there to collect the free promotional items. Approach employers confidently. Introduce yourself and express why you are there. Ask questions and take notes. Express more interest in the company literature than the key rings, Post-it notes, and candy bars.
9. Collect Business Cards And Take Notes
Jot down notes while the employer is talking with you. Ask for the business card of everyone you speak with. After leaving the employer's table, make a note of what you spoke about and what follow-up actions you need to take after the fair.
10. Follow Up
Send a thank you note within 24 hours to each employer you talked to at the fair. Remind them of which position(s) you spoke about and stress your interest in scheduling a follow-up interview. It might also be a good idea to enclose another copy of your resume or a personal business card (if you haven't already given them one) that will remind them of your skills and provide them with contact information.
Keep these three objectives in mind when you attend your next job fair: you are there to network, gather information, and solicit an invitation to an interview. Try to relax and be yourself. Employer's hire people they like. Focus on being likable and you can't lose!
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This post was originally published at an earlier date.