Latest update: December 31st, 2012
People who are out of work will often use every means at their disposal to find employment. Career Fairs are a popular way for employees and employers to meet on a large scale. Instead of (or more likely, in addition to) sending endless resumes, a Career Fair allows the job seeker to meet with multiple employers in a short time frame.
However, the fairs can be overwhelming. Imagine multiplying the stress and nervousness of a job interview by 20 times, as each employer represents a new opportunity to make that lasting impression that leads to a job.
Luckily, there is a method to the madness, and there are strategies that can be employed to help ensure you make the most out of the experience.
First, it is important to understand what a Career Fair is and is not. It is an opportunity for prepared candidates to meet with employers looking for new employees. Job offers are rarely made at Career Fairs. The goal is to make enough of an impression so you will be called back for an in-depth interview.
There are different kinds of Career Fairs. At Touro we offer two every year for our students and alumni where the focus is generally on internships and entry-level positions.
Many fairs, including most held by politicians and communal organizations, are open to a large cross-section of people, with job opportunities for varied levels of expertise and experience. Others are specific to an area of expertise; an actuarial one for example. Make sure to research the fair you plan to attend to make sure that it is right for you and that the kinds of jobs you seek are offered.
To be most successful, you will need to prepare well in advance. You do not want to just “show up” and hope for the best. It is more than just wasting a great opportunity, employers will judge you based on your performance; therefore, participating when you are not prepared may adversely affect your applications submitted via other means.
First and foremost, dress professionally – business casual is not acceptable. Quintessential Careers, an outstanding career-oriented website, provides excellent professional wardrobe advice at www.quintcareers.com/dress_for_success.html. In addition, a professional portfolio to hold your resumes is a great accessory to have. It is preferable not to shlep around a large briefcase. If you need to bring one, check it in the coatroom.
Your professional persona is very important. Make sure your clothes are clean, tailored properly and freshly pressed; shoes need to be shined. Pay close attention to all areas of hygiene. Men should be freshly shaved or have their beards neatly trimmed (unless prohibited for religious reasons). Women who choose to use perfume should make sure that the scent is subtle. Breath mints are always a good idea.
There is no point in showing up without a resume; employers expect to be handed one at the beginning of your interview. Approaching an employer and handing them your business card is a waste of paper; it will most likely end up with the trash.
You need to have a winning resume, and it takes time to create one –and it should be printed on a laser printer on professional resume paper. Make sure to bring more resumes than you think you will need because unexpected opportunities do appear. Trying to produce new professional copies at the event is stressful and wastes valuable time.
Many Career Fairs will publish a list of participating employers in advance. This is a great opportunity to research each employer so you can intelligently discuss why you would be an asset to them. Why you are interested in their particular company is a common question, and you certainly do not want to be asking the interviewer what the company does.
Company websites are powerful tools for research. While some sites are overwhelming, the ”about us” or “mission/values” sections will normally give you a good idea of how the companies want to be perceived. Also, listen to the short videos, if available, of what the CEO and other employees have to say. If you know someone in the company, by all means tap into their knowledge about the company. In addition, Google the name of the company and familiarize yourself with the latest news and online conversations (focus on the positives).
Career Fairs are usually held in large rooms, and there can be a lot of noise and commotion. For some there will be a map with a list of each employer’s location; others may be set up less formally. It is a good idea to walk around and take note of the employers in which you are interested before approaching your first table.
You must be on your best professional behavior at all times, even when you are not in line or talking to an employer. Most events have break areas set up for employers, and they do share their perspective on candidates when talking to one another.
Many employers hand out small promotional items at the Career Fair. You are better served not walking around the room carrying a bunch of these things in your pockets. If you do find a cool item, put it away immediately (you certainly don’t want to be seen as the yo-yo playing with the promotional yo-yo).
It is a good idea to approach an employer in which you are slightly less interested at first to get the feel for how the fair works and get some practice answering questions. If you employ that strategy, remember that this is not just practice. Every employer will be judging you, irrespective of your interest in a particular company, and you must remain professional throughout.
It is also a good idea to speak to employers outside of your specific career area. Many companies have in-house marketing, graphic design, accounting, IT and human resources departments, even if that is not their specialty. Make sure to let the interviewer know that you are aware of the employer’s specialty, but that you are looking for opportunities in other departments.
When approaching a table, let the interviewer take the lead. S/he will likely ask for your resume and invite you to sit down. Let him/her direct the questions. Any interview question is fair game at a Fair, but we have found that employers like to ask why applicants are specifically interested in their company. Be prepared to convincingly answer that question.
Employers usually view these events as “quick screen” opportunities. They are making their determination as to whether you are a viable candidate in 2 or 3 minutes, so first impressions are everything. View every moment of the interview as a precious opportunity to convince the employer that you would make a great employee.
You may notice the interviewer writing something on your resume. Many employers use a grading system and mark each resume accordingly. This is because they may meet a hundreds of applicants, and this grade is the only reminder they have about each applicant.
Make sure to get each interviewer’s business card as it is imperative to send an individually-tailored thank you e-mail. We often advise students to take brief notes immediately after an interview so that the thank you e-mail can refer directly to the positive aspect of the interview and affirm their fit and interest in continuing in the application process. If you have a professional LinkedIn Profile, sending individual personal invitations to all interviewers is a great idea.
Ask each interviewer how they would like you to follow-up. This may yield valuable information on their hiring timetable and when you can expect a response. It can take employers several weeks to make decisions, and knowing that can set you at ease while waiting. It also provides you the opportunity to be proactive. If the employer does not get back to you in the expected time frame, you may not be in their top tier of candidates, but you can seize the opportunity and reach out and keep yourself on their radar.
Even if you think you really aced the interview, and the second interview and a job offer is a guarantee, keep looking for other opportunities. You can always decline an offer if there are better ones on the table, but until you have a firm job offer, you do not have a firm job offer!
Career Fairs can be daunting, but they are an opportunity to make a positive, professional impression on a large number of employers in a short time. Seizing the moment and coming prepared can make all the difference between securing a number of job interviews and months of continued searching. Hatzlacha!
We welcome your feedback. Please email your career-related inquiries and/or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. Touro College’s Career Services assists Touro students and alumni in all aspects of their career search. Contributing to this feature are Ron Ansel, MBA, CPC, Director of Career Services, Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed, and Sarri Singer, Assistant Directors.
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