Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How To Attend Job Fairs

Job fairs are excellent places to learn, network and land a job. But the big job fairs can be overly-crowded, competitive, confusing events……

 Some have hundreds of employers and thousands of job seekers participating, making it impossible for you to shop all booths. You could easily miss your ideal job opportunity while trying to squeeze through the crowd. It's also hard to leave lasting impressions when hundreds of job seekers were at the booths before you, with hundreds more after. But there are ways to make the most of your time on the job fair floor and beat your competitors.

If the Web sites of job fair producers offer the option, search for jobs in advance, to target the most promising, participating employers. Read the employers' profiles if available, to help you answer the classic question, "Why do you want to work for us?" Even if job fair producers don't offer these options, most at least list the participating employers and the general types of jobs they have open, so you may research them on your own. That might be a good idea anyway, and the About Us and career sections of employers' Web sites are typically good places to start. You can find an employer's site by typing the full company name in your browser, where you'd normally type a URL. Alternately, try company-research resources, some of which include business articles, financial reports and such for the companies they track. Natch, in-depth research might not be practical if dozens of companies are offering your job at the fair. But the more you know about each, the better.
Plan to take at least 25 crisp resumes to a job fair, 40 or so if it's a huge event. (The job fair might have copy facilities for free or a small fee, which is nice if you run out. But don't count on it ahead of time.) The scannable format is probably best for job fairs, as it accommodates most of the ways employers file and distribute paper resumes and their electronic counterparts. If your job requires formatting skills, you might also bring some fancier resumes to offer employers a choice. Bring a pen, pencil and notepad too, and organize it all in a nice brief case or portfolio.
Before a job fair, prepare to interview on the spot, summary style in a few minutes or less. In other words, be prepared to quickly sell your skills, talents and experiences. It's better to politely sidestep up-front salary discussions if you can. But have a salary figure in mind, just in case your interview advances to the salary stage. Job fairs tend to be more casual than formal interviews, so you can relax and be more friendly. But also "read the mood" of the employer's representative with whom you're speaking at the moment, and adjust your style accordingly. Even though it's more casual, attire, body language, manners and other interview professionalisms still count. Dress sharp, act professional and display enthusiasm.
Also prepare to fill out a job application on the spot. Unless you're otherwise directed, it's best to turn it in right away. Taking it home first allows your better-prepared competitors to beat you to it.
Arrive a few minutes early at a job fair, to register if required and plan your attack. Pick up a booth map if available, and route your path to the employers you've targeted. If a job list is available, check it, just in case employers added new jobs since you last researched. If you're going to attend seminars, networking events and such, look for the schedules while you're at it.
Visit your targeted employers first with resume in hand, and spend some quality time with each. But, remember that they have many more job seekers waiting, so don't try to hog all their time or be offended if they cut it short. Once you've hit all of your targets, shop other employers' booths and do some networking. If the job fair has casual get-togethers, have some fun while networking too! But, natch, it's a good idea to go easy on the cocktails. Your potential new boss might be watching you.
When wrapping up your conversations with employers' reps, show your interest by asking them what the next steps are. Ask if it's okay to call them or send follow-up letters a few days after the job fair ends. But if they say they'll contact you, don't press your luck too much. The squeaking wheel doesn't always get the oil in this case.
Track to which employers you've submitted your resume at the job fair, so you don't redundantly resubmit it too soon. It's a good idea to jot down other notes too, right after you talk with each rep. This will help you to stay consistent, in case you land a follow-up interview with the same person. (You can bet that interested reps will take notes on you.) Taking notes will also help you to effectively follow up with a call or letter.
Collect business cards or contact info as you go, and do follow up within 24-48 hours with a thank-you letter to each of the representatives with whom you spoke. It's courteous, professional and typically expected, even after casual job fairs. Complying might make you stand out in their minds, to help you land follow-up interviews.
Afterwards, revisit the job fair producers' sites periodically. Many continue to list new and unfilled openings for some time after job fairs. Post your resume if you haven't already done so. Again, if producers don't offer these options, visit the sites of employers that interest you. It wouldn't hurt to visit the latter anyway, as they may have new openings they don't forward to the producers after the job fair. But don't bombard employers with your resume, as it'll appear that you're unorganized and not keeping track. One resume in three to six months is enough. If you want to know what's going with your resume or if you see a new position, send a follow-up letter or letter of inquiry instead. The employer will let you know if you should submit your resume again.

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