The Ten Keys to Success at Job and Career Fairs

Michele Warg
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There are many types of job and career fairs - from ones scheduled during Spring Break for college students to industry-specific ones for professionals - but they all have one common theme: it's a chance for a company to meet and screen a large volume of potential job candidates. Whether you're a college student new to the job-hunting process or a seasoned professional, these ten strategies will improve your odds of not being screened out and should lead to a deeper level of satisfaction with your effortd and increase your chances of obtaining a second interview.

Keep in mind that career fairs should be just one small part of your entire job search process; however, they can be a successful part. Will these ten strategies guarantee you success? Of course not, but by following these strategies, you will be in position to strategically place yourself above many of the other job-seekers who are attending the fair.

The Ten Keys to Success:
  1. Pre-register. Some career fairs allow job-seekers to pre-register for the event, which usually includes submitting a resume or summary resume. With more fairs going to the Web, pre-registration will most likely become even more common. The idea behind pre-registering, of course, is that employers get a chance to prescreen applicants and possibly make note of applicants they want to meet at the fair. Does pre-registration guarantee that you will get noticed or that employers will even look at the registrations? No, but why would you not take advantage of such an easy step?
  2. Research. Many job-seekers go to fairs to "see the sights" and are not prepared to interview. You can get a huge jump on the competition by getting a list of the companies attending the fair and doing some research on each of the companies you want to interview with. While all of the recruiters will have company literature at their booths at the fair, you often can't access those until after the interview. With so much information about companies on the Web, there is no excuse not to do your homework. A great site to help you with this strategy is the Guide to Researching Companies.
  3. Resumes. Bring lots of resumes to the fair - at least two for each company for which you have an interest. If you have multiple interests or job objectives, make sure you bring enough of each version of your resume. For tips on writing a traditional resume, visit these resume resources. You should also bring scannable versions of your resumes. More and more recruiters are simply bringing these collected stacks of resumes back to the corporate office and scanning them into a database. Need assistance with developing a scannable resume? Then visit these scannable resume fundamentals.
  4. Portfolios. More and more career experts are emphasizing the importance of career portfolios. These portfolios should include copies of your resumes, a list of references, and samples of your best work. While most career fair interviews are fairly short, there may be opportunities for discussing your portfolio with a recruiter - either over a short break or meal or during a second interview on-site. It is best to always be prepared no matter what happens.
  5. Attire. Conservative business attire is essential, even for those Spring Break beachside career fairs because image and first impressions are critical. Know what is the expected attire of your profession and dress accordingly. It is always better to be overdressed than underdressed.
  6. Strategy. You need to devise a strategy or plan of attack for the fair. You've already done the first step by researching the companies you are interested in. The second step is seeing if any new companies have registered when you arrive at the fair. The third step is surveying the layout of the fair and determining an order of interviewing. Some suggest meeting with your top choices first thing in the morning, interviewing with your other choices in the middle of the day, and returning to your top choices at the end of the day to thank them again for their time. But remember to stay flexible as your top choices may be the top choices of many, creating long lines that you may wish to avoid.
  7. Interviewing. You may only have two to five minutes to market yourself and protect yourself from being screened out, thus you need to make the most of your time. Start with the basics: make eye contact, offer a firm handshake, and show enthusiasm. Prepare answers to interview questions just as you would any employment interview. The most common question you will face is something along the lines of "what are you here for today?" Seems like an easy question to answer, especially if you've done your homework and can tailor your answer to your interests and the company's interests, thereby marketing yourself. Make sure you also have some questions ready to ask the interviewer. A great follow-up question for you to ask is, "What do I need to do to obtain a second interview with your firm?" Finally, make sure to avoid poor communication bad habits, such as fidgeting, rocking, chewing gum, etc. Follow this link for more interviewing tips and resources.
  8. Intangibles. There are several other things you can do to help make your career fair experience a success. First, don't waste your time interviewing with companies you have no desire to work for; do make sure to interview with all the companies you do want to work for. Second, if you did not prepare for a company you want to interview for, try eavesdropping on several of the interviews ahead of you so you can better prepare; do also try to get some company literature from the booth before getting in line so you can read about the company while waiting; don't just stand in line doing nothing. Third, do extend common courtesies, such as offering to get the recruiter a beverage or snack; don't be upset if the recruiter has to take a break before your interview. Fourth, if your ideal company is hiring computer technicians and you want to work in accounting, do still interview with the company at the fair, being sure to leave the interview with the contact information of the person responsible for hiring in that area; don't be discouraged and walk away.
  9. Networking. Career fairs are all about networking. Of course, you are building a network with the recruiters - this task is your most vital. However, you can also network with your fellow job-seekers in terms of sharing information about job leads, companies, and their recruiting strategies and styles. There may also be professional organizations or employment agencies on hand at the fair, which are also good sources for networking. Learn more by visiting: The Art of Networking.
  10. Follow-up. Don't take the order of this key to mean it to be the least important; in fact, some would say it is one of the most important. You would be surprised at how few job-seekers actually take the time to follow-up their career fair interviews, thus when you do it, you will get an edge over the many others who do not. There are two main methods of follow-up. Some experts suggest actually calling the recruiter the evening of the fair and leaving a voicemail message thanking the recruiter again for his/her time that day. A more concrete and traditional method is to write a thank you note and mail it the next day to the address on the recruiter's business card. In the letter, thank the recruiter for his/her time, restate your interest and qualifications for the position, reiterate your interest in a second interview, and make a promise to follow-up the letter with a phone call (and then make sure you do in fact call). You probably should enclose another copy of your resume to be sure. What should the letter look like? Here's a sample thank you letter to a career fair recruiter.

Looking for more details or other strategies? There are a few other sources of information and strategy guides for career fairs:

Links to some of the major career and job fair organizations:

    Career Expo Job Fairs: has joined forces with the Lendman Group through Kaplan Educational Centers, a Washington Post Company, to create the largest career fairs in the United States, Canada and Europe. Fairs are geared toward professionals in a number of different fields.
    Jobs America - the Career Fair Professionals: created by Westech Expocorp, a comprehensive technical recruitment resource, with a focus on fairs held mostly in the Western regions of the U.S. Fairs are geared toward professionals in a number of different fields.
    JOBDEX Job Development Expos, Career Fairs, and Employment Seminars: offering career fairs across the U.S. Primary goal as a company is to see employers find and hire the qualified people they need to grow and develop their respective organizations and to provide the best opportunity for people to develop their own personal career goals.
    CFG Inc. Career Fairs: hosting fairs for IT, MIS, engineering, sales, management, and business professionals. In 1998, CFG Inc. coordinated more than 200 career fairs in 35 cities nationwide.
    National Career Centers USA: offering career fairs nationwide for engineering, computer science, IT, MIS, accounting, insurance, and others. Also offers as a Cyberfair on its web site.
    American Recruitment, Inc.: a leading source of employment for sales, marketing, and retail professionals. Plans call for nearly 200 career fairs in 1999 in more than 36 cities nationally.
    Career Fairs Searchable Database on JobWeb: from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Career fairs listed are sponsored by member colleges.
    Careers '99 Daytona -- get all the information you need for the annual Daytona Beach (Florida) Job Fair.
    Spring Break Career Expo -- get all the information you need for three different Spring Break Career Expos held annually in Panama City Beach (Florida), Lake Havasu (Arizona), and South Padre Island (Texas).
    Check out Yahoo!, Hotbot, Infoseek, or your favorite search engine for other possible job and career fairs.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen Department of Marketing Stetson University
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