Keys to Having a Successful Career Fair

By Joe Stein

A quick view of the WNYJOBS.com “home page” appears to always have a list of a few upcoming Career Fairs.  That shouldn’t be a surprise to a Job Seeker, as Career Fairs are still a very productive way to find a new job, despite the predictions of those who have claimed that they will be obsolete.  While I acknowledge that there are many online resources at the disposal of a Job Seeker, the reality is that being face to face with area employers’ still holds significant value.

The following are some basic tips to make your next Career Fair visit a success:

• Understand What a Career Fair Is (and Isn’t) – Don’t get frustrated during the course of your Career Fair visit because it doesn’t meet your expectations.  For many, the time prior to attending a Career Fair is similar to holding a lottery ticket in your hand.  We all fantasize that it will far exceed our expectations, whether that means landing your dream job or winning the big jackpot. The reality is that while a Career Fair is a wonderful way to personally meet a representative of an organization in which you have an interest in joining.  It will rarely result in an immediate hire, as an attending Recruiter will have limited time to invest in an individual applicant, but it is a good start.  What you will know is that you have deposited your Resume with someone who will review it and that you have had the opportunity to (hopefully) make a good 1st impression.  Finally, a Career Event is usually not the venue to find a position in a very specific, niche type of position.  Those employers attending positions generally do so because they have the quantity of certain open jobs available to make it worth their time (i.e., sales, service, light industrial, etc.).

• Do Your Pre-Work – Just like with any aspect of your job search, the Career Fair requires you to invest time both in preparation and strategy. The first step should be to review the list of participating employers.  This list is usually available either via the Internet or by calling the event organizer.  This action will serve to assist you in determining whether to attend this event, and also will facilitate your employer research. . If a prospective company has their open positions posted on either their Website or the Career Fair’s, then search this area in order to become familiar with what they are currently recruiting for. Many Career Fairs will provide you an opportunity to pre-register for the event, which may provide privileges such as early attendance or the ability to have your Resume included in a portfolio. Most Career Fairs will publish a map identifying where each employer will be stationed. You will want to know exactly where all of your targeted employers are stationed.  Prepare a game plan of who you plan to visit and when, but based on their applicant flow be flexible enough to change your order.  Try not to meet with employers sequentially who are next to each other.  Recruiters do not want to see a person meet with them and then go right to the next station and meet with the next employer.  Allow a little time to pass before you meet with the employer right next door.

• Prepare an “Icebreaker” - In a Career Fair, you will have a limited time to make a good 1st impression.  You will need some type of “icebreaker” to quickly connect with a Recruiter (and “grab” their attention). This “icebreaker” could be weaving a key question or tidbit about the company into the conversation (don’t forget to practice it!).  In today’s Internet world, searching for recent information or finding a company’s Website is so easy to do that it is foolish to omit. If you are able to secure a minute or two with the Recruiter, then prepare a short speech that will quickly convey how you fit perfectly with their industry and what they are recruiting for. Don’t be afraid to initiate the contact with a warm “Hello”, and a handshake. What you absolutely do not want to do is ask, “What Do You Do?” or “Tell Me About Your Company”.  Close any conversation by finishing your presentation and directly moving into a submission of your Cover Letter and Resume. Recruiters will attempt to make separate piles of Resumes as the Career Fair progresses.  Individuals who impress them with their experience, questions, and overall conversation will be placed in a different pile from the rest of the applicants. 

• Bring the Goods:  You will want an ample supply of Cover Letters and Resumes.  Each document should be customized for the employer you are seeking in order to properly display your skills and experiences.  Complete customized documents written specifically for each desired employer to provide a personal touch.  At a Career Fair, it is very easy for Recruiters to become discouraged as Job Seekers go from table-to-table seeking employment.  A little touch, such as creating documents just for them, will go a long way to attract their attention.  Bring some extra generic Resumes for the late additions that always seem to happen at Career Fairs.  Make sure you have enough documents to cover every possible prospective employer.  The last thing you will want to do is ration your Resumes because you did not come prepared.

• Arrive Energetic and Refreshed:  You will need to maintain your energy level over a period of 1-2 hours.  Make sure you’ve had a good nights sleep and prepare to arrive early to avoid any stress created by running late or having to rush. Avoid arriving in the last ½ hour of the event, as often the flow of applicants dwindles and results in employers taking down their displays and beginning to leave.

• Be Professional:  Consider the Career Fair a series of Interviews.  Dress in a professional manner as you would in an Interview.  Differentiate yourself from the individuals who were not savvy enough to dress the part.  Wait for your opportunity to speak to the Recruiter.  Do not crowd or interrupt any conversation that is being held. Speak enthusiastically and warmly with the Recruiter providing a smile, eye contact, and a professional handshake. Although it is OK to arrive with friends, you will want to travel through the Career Fair independently.  This will allow you to shine by displaying your maturity and confidence.  Be very strategic in your acceptance of “goodies” at the Career Fair.  Stay away from the candy and only accept a “gift” if it is specifically offered; never help yourself.  Do not ask any questions regarding salary, benefits, etc. These inquiries are for later in the process when you are moving towards an offer.

• Do Your Follow-Up - Seek the business card of each contact you make.  After the Career Fair, send them a Thank You Note for spending time with you at such a busy event.  Try to personalize the note by mentioning something that you specifically spoke to the Recruiter about.  It may help you remember if you carry a small note pad with you so you can write down key points or observations about the conversation to be used later in your note.

Do your homework, sell yourself professionally, and follow-up afterwards to make your next Career Fair a huge success.

As always, best of luck in your job search.