Participating in a career fair is a great way to connect with multiple employers in one location. In fact, it’s often the first phase of the hiring process for many businesses. Although career fairs can be a gold mine of potential employers, they are also filled with job seekers who are all competing to prove to recruiters why they are the most qualified candidates for the job. Don’t let that intimidate you. With a little strategic planning, you can get a step ahead of the competition and make the most out of your career fair experience.
Before the Event
Pre-register to attend. And, if there is an option to upload your resume, take advantage of it. This gives hiring managers an advanced opportunity to look at your qualifications. It can also motivate you to update and polish your resume ahead of time, rather than waiting until the last minute. Once your resume is finalized, print multiple copies.
Find out what employers will be represented. You can often find a list of participating employers online before the event. Once you’ve established which companies will be represented, research them. According to CareerBuilder.com’s Tips for Career Fair Success, the more you know about a company, the more you can converse with the company representatives which helps them remember you better. Determine what positions they want to fill and make a list of the skills you have that would make you uniquely qualified for the job. Be prepared to discuss how your strengths can meet the company’s needs.
Identify the employers you want to talk with and visit them first. Time is limited so you want to make the most of it. Going in with a game plan will help. Print the list of participating companies, then rank them based on order of importance to you. Plan to visit your top companies first then make your way down the list. Remember though, you may have to be flexible because of high traffic and long lines.
Prepare a concise introduction. Chances are you’ll only have a short amount of time to sell yourself so you’ll want to take full advantage of this limited opportunity. Start by introducing yourself and providing some brief information about your background. Next, provide three to five key points about the skills you can offer. Rather than giving general attributes, provide specific examples of how your skills and experience fit the job requirements and can benefit the company. During conversation, stay alert to what the representative says the company is looking for. If you don’t have an opportunity to directly address how you can meet those needs at the career fair, be sure to do so in a follow up message within 24 hours.
Be ready to answer and ask questions. Not only is it important to plan what you are going to say, but to also be prepared to answer a few questions. “What kind of position are you looking for?” and “What kind of experience do you have?” are frequently asked during career fair interviews. Be prepared for more abstract questions designed to catch you off guard too such as, “Why do you want this job?” Pause and really think before answering. “Because I need it” may be a good reason in your mind, but it’s not likely to get you an offer. Always phrase answers in terms of the value you can add to an employer.
CareerBuilder.com also recommends asking the recruiter what he or she likes best about the corporate culture to better assess if that company is right for you. Toward the end of the discussion, be sure to ask about next steps.
Game Time: Put your best foot forward
Look the part. On the day of the event, dress professionally regardless of the type of job you are seeking. Appearance is the first impression you give so make it positive.
Bring more resumes than you think you will need. Remember all those resumes you printed? Bring them with you to the event. It’s always better to have too many than not enough.
Arrive on time. Even if there are only a few employers you want to visit, go early. You never know how many students will be attending or if some additional employers will show up on the day of the event. For your best chance to talk with all the prospects you are interested in visiting, go at the beginning of the event.
Map out a plan of attack. If you’re given a map showing where each company is located, use it to prioritize your visits. If there are no maps, scan the room and take note of the booth locations of your top choices. CollegeGrad.com advises seeking out the prime employers early on, as lines are generally the longest during the “mid-day crunch.”
Make a memorable impression. Remember, the recruiter will most likely be meeting a great deal of potential candidates throughout the day. You want to make the most of your time together and do your best to make your meeting memorable. Smiling, making eye-contact, being enthusiastic and confident are all impressionable behaviors you can incorporate into conversation. Don’t just be another candidate, be a breath of fresh air.
End the conversation by asking about next steps and a timeline for hiring. If you haven’t already gotten a business card, ask for one. Thank the interviewers for their time, give a hand shake then exit the booth.
Record notes about your conversation. Before moving on to the next employer, take a few minutes to list some key takeaways from the discussion that you can address in a follow up message. Be sure to make note of the interviewers’ names for future correspondence.
Send a follow-up note. Remember to thank each interviewer for his or her time during the career fair and wish each of them success in filling all of their available positions. Refer to your notes to incorporate a specific point from your initial meeting and be sure to include your contact information. Close by noting that you are still very interested in employment with the company. Aim to send the hand-written thank you note or e-mail follow-up within 24 hours of the event.