Getting the Most Out of a Job Fair

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squeezeGiven the cursory, assembly line nature of job fairs, it may seem ineffectual to spend time and effort crafting a job fair strategy and investing time into creating a unique presentation – after all,  you’ll just be shaking hands, exchanging greetings then being shuffled along, right? But don’t talk yourself out of ignoring a perfect opportunity to stand out amongst your peers and grab the attention of potential employers who genuinely want to meet you. With a small change in mindset and some pre-planning, job fairs can be used to gain exposure, make a contact, and make an impactful first impression with a variety of employers.

Treating a job fair as merely a matter of lining yourself up for inspection is folly. Contrary to this way of thinking, it is more advantageous to view job fairs as a tool for selecting your next employer, not the other way around. Making job fairs more effective begins with being picky about which events to attend. Narrow your employer hunt to those events within your specialty and those for jobs in regions you’d prefer working in. Once you’ve chosen your events, be as selective about employers as you were the job fairs themselves. You don’t need to make an impression on every one present. Instead, select the handful of companies that are the best fit for your goals and focus on making initial contacts with these firms first. Afterwards, you may look into other employers as time permits.

Time spent with an employer at a job fair is necessarily brief but that doesn’t mean they are a trivial matter. The best approach may be to approach this type of event as you would a traditional job interview. Learn about your target companies and create a few questions for each one to demonstrate your interest and familiarity with each firm. Dress in a formal style appropriate for an interview setting and bring several versions of your resume that fit each company’s goals and focus. Finally, create your brief, personal sales pitch and memorize it. Let the prospective employers know who you are, in what you specialize, and what you can do for each business.

Getting the best results from a job fair can be a simple matter of knowing how, and how not, to act at a job fair. For example, while it may help calm your nerves, avoid attending job fairs with a cadre of friends. Remember, you are approaching job fairs as you would a standard interview, and your friends wouldn’t tag along for that. The idea here is to stand out and build your professional network; moving in group here detracts from these efforts. With that in mind, introduce yourself to people around you whether they are hiring or looking for a job. Practice your pitch, get to know other stories, and build your network. Finally, lay off the swag. Sure, collecting a bunch of neat corporate-branded freebies may be fun, but walking around loaded up like a tourist at Disney World look unprofessional.

At the end of the event, use your new contacts to your advantage. Reach out to these contacts, send them a thank-you email and don’t be afraid to repeat your sales pitch and recap the benefits you have to offer their company.

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Joshua Bjerke, from Savannah, Georgia, focuses on articles involving the labor force, economy, and HR topics including new technology and workplace news. Joshua has a B.A. in Political Science with a Minor in International Studies and is currently pursuing his M.A. in International Security.