Whether you’re gearing up to graduate or there’s a hiring fair in your area, the calendar year is front-loaded with job fairs. Most people think of job fairs as over crowded, competitive marketplaces with few opportunities compared to candidates. This may be why most people who attend job fairs do so casually, and come under dressed and under prepared, and so their negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The good news is, by taking extra time to prepare, you can turn stand out from the competition and make your mark with a standout company.
Before we can talk about how to prepare, though, it’s important to know what you can gain from attending a job fair. At any given job fair, you will be able to:
- Find out which companies are hiring locally and get face time with a hiring representative.
- Inquire about available positions nationally and sometimes internationally.
- Learn about available internships.
- Network with hiring professionals.
- Gain experience selling yourself.
The last two might sound as appealing as a tonsillectomy, but there is a strong case to be made for getting practice, especially if you haven’t yet graduated. After all, unless you’re independently wealthy, practicing selling yourself and talking to hiring professionals is a skill you can’t master fast enough. The more practical experience you get, the better able you are to compete and less anxious you’ll feel. You’ll begin to see it as an opportunity rather than just a chore.
Before the Job Fair
Before attending a job fair, there are a couple necessary steps to take that will help you prepare to dazzle the recruiters and outshine your competition.
- Pre-registion is often necessary and should always be your first step. There’s no point in carefully preparing if you’re not allowed to attend because you never registered.
- Identify and research your target employers. While you should definitely work the room, it’s important that you spend extra time preparing to apply for your favorite companies. Many job fairs post this information online for their registrants.
- Map out your strategy. Plan to hit as many booths as possible with a minimum of hovering or loitering. This makes you look nervous rather than in demand.
- Have a clear career focus, because showing up with a pile of generic resumes and no idea about the job market or your desired role in it makes you look unprepared and directionless.
- Prepare resumes using that clear career focus with your target employers in mind.
- Prepare any portfolios or samples of your work that pertain to the positions you want.
- Rehearse your elevator pitch. Remember to focus on clarify, brevity and memorability.
- Practice answering typical interview questions in front of the mirror or with a partner.
- Develop a list of questions to ask the recruiters to show that you’re keen, curious and thorough in your research.
- Decide on your outfit and accessories the day before, and if you haven’t worn them in a while, try them all on to save yourself from any last minute emergencies.
- Organize the night before. Lay out your outfit, your bag with notes, any ID or proof of registration, paper and several pens and don’t forget to pack your resumes.
At the Job Fair
- Bring 25 resumes written for the companies you’re targeting, as well as ten generic resumes. Don’t forget that your “generic” resumes shouldn’t read as directionless; you should still be clear about where your interests and skills lie.
- Prepare to be interviewed on the spot.
- Prepare to fill out a paper application or do so later online. Bring a couple different pens and test them out at home first.
- Bring questions about the company, the corporate structure and the positions they’re looking to fill.
- Take notes, even if you feel awkward. It demonstrates that you’re serious and allows you to keep accurate records and properly follow up. If possible, collect business cards to go with your notes.
- Ask how to follow up. Send thank you notes, keep track of where you’ve applied to and who you spoke to. This is where those notes and business cards come in handy.
- Shop the room. Don’t spend all your time at one booth, no matter how much you want to work for that company, or how disinterested you are in the other companies on offer. Remember, this is the best time to practice and hone your networking skills. Being able to confidently work a room is a credit to your personal and professional life, no matter where you end up.
- And above all, please, turn off your cellphone.
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