Ahhh, career fairs. It seems they are a rite of passage in a career search. Career fairs are a good idea to research companies and network. Career fairs are a bad idea if you think you will walk away with a job (statistics show that less than 2% of attendees get a job directly from a job fair).
So, how do you navigate a career fair? Here are some tips:
1. Before going to the Career Fair:
* Develop a strategy to maximize your time at the event.
* Identify target organizations by reviewing the list of participating employers (for the upcoming Montgomery County Career Fair, that list can be found here). If someone has a job posted that interests you, bring that job ad with you.
* Practice your elevator pitch – be ready to talk about your work experiences, skills and abilities.
* Prepare specific questions for each recruiter/organization.
* Review and revise your resume and print copies that you will have on hand the day of the fair.
2. When first arriving at the Career Fair:
* Make a name tag and place it on your right side, so that when you shake hands with recruiters, they can easily glance up your arm to your name tag.
* Review the employer list for any last-minute attendees.
* Take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and scan a map of the venue. Pay special attention to your priority organizations. You will want to go to these first.
3. While meeting with the recruiter*:
* Note, we said recruiter. The staff at a career fair will not be a hiring manager. It will be someone from HR who is knowledgeable about the company. This is your time to see if this company fits your interests, and to gain more information about the hiring process at this particular organization.
* Make a positive first impression by remembering all the keys to successful interviewing including a firm handshake, warm smile, eye contact and a confident voice.
* If you have a job ad, bring it to their attention. See if you can gain any more information about how to position yourself.
* Take advantage of the opportunity to try to build a rapport with the recruiter, but don’t monopolize their time.
* Ask about the hiring process for the company but don’t ask questions about salaries, vacation time and other benefits.
* Get a business card (or at least contact information) from each recruiter.
4. After leaving the recruiter:
* Immediately jot down any notes on the back of his/her business card that will help you remember the conversation or key points to follow up on.
* Network with other job-seekers! Some of the attendees are your competition of course, but sharing information and resources can be quite beneficial.
5. After leaving the Career Fair:
* Follow up and thank each recruiter you spoke to at the fair.
* Organize your notes and contacts. Then, devise a timeline for making sure you sustain your new connections.
* Manage your expectations. A Career Fair can be a great way to get face to face with a company; however, like any networking activity, the payoff is not always immediately apparent, so
make sure you continue your other job searching activities.