It’s job fair season. Employers set aside days from work, hoping to meet and talk to candidates with the goal of finding their most important asset and biggest single budget item: future employees. They will set up tables in large halls, with business cards and company information in hand, and excited hopefulness to fill specific job postings with great candidates.
So, employers are ready. Are you?
Job fairs provide job seekers with one of the very few chances job seekers get to meet employers face-to-face; a one of a kind opportunity to impress them with those valuable characteristics that your resume cannot communicate to employers: your interpersonal skills, communication skills, professionalism, and likability. Think of a job fair as a way to build a professional network — to meet employers in your field, secure job interviews and learn as much as you can about the local labour market (including job openings, workplace culture, and the nature of sector). Sometimes, job seekers can even have an interview on the spot. Though it is unlikely that you will get an actual job offer at a job fair, you can make progress toward getting that job offer, if you do it properly.
How do you prepare?
Start off with reading the job fair advert very carefully — as you can see on this one, the companies attending are listed, as well as the job titles for which they are hiring. The posting also clearly indicates how to register — in this case, they want to a resume emailed as part of registration. For other job fairs, you might need to buy tickets, or email, or you may just need to show up.
1. Learn about the companies that will be attending.
Note which companies have positions in which you are interested, and do some research to gather information about those companies online. Find their websites and read the “about us” page. Maybe even print it out. Look for mentions of them on Google and social media. Take some notes about their mission statement, products and projects. Look for job opportunities posted on their site, and consider applying to the positions in which you are interested. You could even bring a record of the application to show the employer at the job fair.
2. Prepare to market yourself.
Prepare a personal statement — also known as an elevator pitch. This short introduction is a way to express your suitability for working at the company. Have an idea of what you would like to emphasize to different companies.
Be ready to talk about yourself — think about what you want to tell the employer about your last job, how it ended (stay positive!), and what you have been doing since. Find a way to tell them how your journey brought you to this company and their jobs.
Make sure you have suitable clothes – dress as for an interview — find an outfit that is just a little more formal than the company staff might wear every day. Consider wearing comfortable shoes though, as you may be on your feet for a few hours.
3. Prepare your resume and LinkedIn.
Make sure your resume is up to date. Update your LinkedIn profile — expect employers to possibly look you up after the interview. Include your LinkedIn profile URL on your resume as well. Prepare multiple copies of your resume to hand out.
4. Think of questions to ask.
Prepare to make a good impression. Recruiters will remember your conversation if they feel engaged. Prepare to show that you are interested in working for their company by preparing questions about the current opportunities, the company’s work culture, and other open-ended questions; see if you can find any recent positive news in which the company was featured.
At the Job Fair:
1. Present yourself professionally.
Get there early, neatly dressed, and with your resumes, note paper and questions in a neat folder. Speak and act professionally — offer a firm handshake when you meet the recruiter, and make appropriate eye contact. Silence your cell phone — don’t let it interfere with your conversation with employers.
Avoid asking about salary or benefits; that will come later if they call you. Keep in mind that you will not have quality time to discuss your application with a recruiter; that can be done at a formal interview. Job fairs tend to be busy, noisy and fast paced — not a good place for too much detail, so be aware of time restrictions — if the line up behind you is long and the employer is looking harried, don’t drag the conversation out too long. Bring lots of patience; you’ll need it.
2. Schedule a follow-up appointment, if you can.
Sometimes, companies prefer making an appointment for the candidate to speak with a representative following the Job Fair; this is an opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with the employer, which is difficult to do at larger events. If the conversation is going well, considering asking whether the employer would be interested to meet with you after the event to discuss your candidacy further. Don’t be upset if they refuse — it may not be their preferred protocol for Fairs (but it doesn’t hurt to ask).
3. Gather business cards or contact details of employers.
Follow-up is important. After each conversation or meeting with a recruiter, take notes and ask for a business card. If this is not available, get the person’s name, company, job title, and email address. Ask permission to connect with them on LinkedIn.
After the Job Fair:
1. Write thank you notes. Consider writing a brief email to those employers with whom you met, to show appreciation for their time and emphasize your interest in the company. A sample of a thank you letter can be found here.
2. Remember: Job fairs offer you an extraordinary opportunity to meet with employers who are in a position to offer you your next great career move. So, take it seriously: read the job fair ad and follow the instruction carefully, research the companies, prepare a folder with your resume (bring a few), paper and a pen, dress appropriately, and prepare what you want to say about yourself. Bring your patience and best professional self. Follow up.
Best of luck!