Preparing for and Acing a Career Fair | Articles & Tips | WNYJobs.com | Buffalo

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 Preparing for and Acing a Career Fair

By Joe Stein

Western New York is regularly the host of Career Fair events that help to connect Recruiters with Job Seekers. Career Fairs have become even more important during these challenging economic times, as the competition for jobs are stiff and Job Seekers need to do whatever they can to attract the attention of a company.
 
So what do you, as a Job Seeker, need to do (in advance) to prepare for a successful Career Fair and what should you do once you arrive?
 
Let’s start by examining the reason that Career Fairs exist. These events are held to provide an immediate link between employers and job seekers. It allows the Job Seeker to meet numerous employers, while the employers meet numerous candidates – all at the same time, in one location.
 
Preparing for a Career Fair:
 
·         Study the Participants - A Job Seeker must perform necessary preparations prior to attending the event. Along with this, be sure to attend with your attack strategy. Start by doing some research on what companies will be attending. You can receive this listing by either contacting the event organizers or by securing a copy of WNYJOBS.com, if it is a sponsored event. WNYJOBS.com will generally have a listing (and sometimes a floor map!) of participating employers in the issue that will be distributed at the event. This issue will usually be available at newsstands prior to the event. Use this list to determine what companies you want to meet, and then conduct research on each of these companies, so you can have a meaningful discussion with the attending recruiter. Think of the advantage you will have when you discuss the targeted employer’s industry and market trends compared to others that have not done the legwork. Prioritize the companies you have targeted, in case time becomes an issue. You definitely want to meet with your highest priority companies first, as you do not want to run out of time before meeting with your prime targets. 
 
·         Prepare Your Resume - Print and carry into the Career Fair, several copies of your resume on good quality resume paper. Bring a briefcase or messenger bag to carry your Resumes and whatever informational items you obtain during the event. This will allow you to ensure your documents maintain their professional appearance. 
 
·         Dress Appropriately - Even if more and more members of your competition are dressing casually at Career Fairs, this is not an opportunity for you to discard your interview attire. Dress in professional but comfortable shoes, since the event will require you to walk and stand extensively.
 
·         Create Your Introductory Message – You will have limited time to engage a Recruiter at these types of events due to the many individuals seeking a forum with the person. Prepare a one-minute introduction that will succinctly frame your strengths, goals, and aspirations. Anticipate the 1-2 questions that a Recruiter may ask, and prepare your answers. For example, a Recruiter will often open by asking what you are looking for at the Job Fair; you should have an answer beyond “a job”. 
 
When at the Career Fair:
 
·         Arrive Early – Schedule yourself plenty of time for the Career Fair. Whenever you plan to arrive, make sure you have factored in items such as parking and checking-in to the event. Anticipate which tables will be busy and provide yourself with enough time to grab a moment with the Recruiter. Most Career Fairs are usually the busiest during the 1st half of the event, so try to arrive upon opening for quality time with Recruiters. By the 2nd half of the Career Fair, many Recruiters will begin the process of packing their displays in anticipation of leaving for the day. Try not to arrive in the last 1-2 hours of the event, since this will not allow you enough time to network and you also run the risk of missing key employers who have already departed or are distracted. Keep in mind: a good Job Fair will require a commitment of at least a few hours.
 
·         Network – It seems quite obvious to network with Recruiters, but don’t forget Job Seekers. Many Job Seekers will not be pursuing the same position(s) you are. This will allow you to engage in conversation with them, exchange contact information, and offer to share job leads.
 
·         Stay In Control – Be assertive and display initiative at the event. Engage the Recruiter with a handshake, make eye contact, and project a smile. Appear interested in whatever conversation you have with the person. These events can become overwhelming with the mass of humanity in a small area, and the pressure of the situation. Stay calm and professional at all times through your positive attitude.
 
·         Be Courteous – Here is a short list of courtesy points…do not chew gum, do not take all the employers free token gifts, or candy. Please have fresh breath and good overall personal hygiene, since you will be conducting your brief screening conversation with the recruiter in close quarters. Do not monopolize the recruiter’s time, or interrupt a conversation they are in with another Job Seeker. Remember: they are there to meet a large quantity of people, so make a positive first impression, receive follow-up contact information, and then move on to the next employer. Make sure to thank the person for their time (you may even want to approach the table when you are ready to leave so you can provide another Thank You). Try not to go up and down the tables in sequential order. This will give the last employer you spoke to the impression that they were important rather than just the next in line.
 
·         Read the Materials – Typically the companies will have a wealth of relevant information on items such as their history, to what they are currently recruiting for. Try to grab (and quickly review) these materials prior to engaging the Recruiter. Try not to immediately fall into a line in front of the table, but rather hover briefly around the table, listening to what the Recruiter is asking and interested in. All of this may provide you a small, inside advantage in the conversation. 
 
·         Take Notes – You will be absorbing an exceptional amount of information at the event. Be sure to bring a pen, along with a small pad of paper to jot down notes and job lead information. This will also allow you to track which companies you submitted a Resume to and for what position(s).
 
·         Understand Next Steps - Make sure you obtain business cards of the recruiters you meet. Attempt to get a flavor for what is the next step in the process for the Recruiter, and what does he/she recommend a Job Seeker do next. Follow-up your meeting at the Career Fair with an e-mail or letter (referencing that you met at ‘X’ Career Fair), to maintain contact and further establish your interest in the company. Try to send this note within 24-48 hours and you may want to resend your resume to make sure a clean, fresh one is on file. 
 
Finally, have fun! I know that sounds odd for a Job Seeker, but a Career Fair should be eagerly anticipated and enjoyable. You have a room full of employers who are hiring and willing to talk to you about yourself. This should be an exciting opportunity for you to meet the Recruiters of hiring companies. Enjoy it!
 
As always, best of luck in your job search.