Have you been sat around wondering where to find work? Are you getting to know all the faces at the Department of Labor office? Maybe it feels like you’ve mailed every employer in the Yellow Pages?

What about a job fair? How can you get the best out of one?

A job fair is usually hosted at a posh hotel conference center. It can be a bit daunting if you’re not used to it – being surrounded by your competitors is often more difficult than sparring remotely. However, with some simple preparation techniques, you can come out a winner. Or, if not an immediate winner, at least with some options and possibilities.

The thing to do is to view a job fair as being a bit like a speed-dating event. It comes in four phases – making a good visual impression, having the chat to back up your looks, being interested in your partner, and then making yourself (pleasantly) unforgettable.

So, how do you put this concept into practice at a job fair when there are likely to be dozens of employers and hundreds or even thousands of fellow jobseekers?

Time to get up!

Remember, no-one owes you a living. If you don’t make the effort, nothing will happen so prepare for the event with a go-getting attitude. There are jobs for the taking and you are going to get one.

Let’s look at ten steps to success.

Before the event

Step 1 – When and where?

Look in the local papers, ask at the Department of Labor, put the word out with friends, and check out the National Careers website where you will find career fairs sorted by state, city and zip code.  Having identified the fairs you want to go to, make sure you know how you are going to get there. Do a dry run and research public transport times or parking (including charges so that you have the right change handy). You need to be arriving just before the event opens so that you can get quality time with the companies that interest you most.

Step 2 – Who’s going to be there?

Get a list of attending companies and organizations. This can be obtained by asking at the conference center’s reception or by looking online (these events always have a website). You need this list as far in advance as possible although companies often sign up after the lists are prepared so it’s worth phoning the contact number a few days beforehand to see if there’s anyone new coming.

Step 3 – Do your homework

Have you ever been stuck for words and come away thinking, “I wish I’d said …”? Well, the Job Fair is not the place to let that happen. Use a highlighter pen to divide the list of companies into 3 categories; ‘must see’, ‘definite possibles’ and ‘not really’ (NB never rule anyone out – no matter how unlikely a contender they might seem.) Now, go through all of the ‘Must see’ companies and research them thoroughly. Write down some intelligent and unique questions for each.

For example:

  • “Tell me more about you <insert name> training scheme”
  • “Can you explain about your fast-track training program?”
  • “What are the prospects for getting an interview for your new store in <name>?”

Show that you’ve bothered to find out about them but don’t labor the point.

Rehearse your questions well but don’t be afraid to take the list in with you – it makes you look organized!

When you’ve done the ‘must see’ list, start on the ‘definite possibilities’ candidates, and so on.

Step 4 – Prepare your resume

Fine tune your resume to meet the needs of the employers you will be meeting and make sure your personal statement is appropriate for the jobs they are likely to be offering. If possible, have different versions for your main employers and put them in separate (and labeled) manila envelopes. When you think you’ve finished get everyone you can think of to read your resume(s) through and let them snag it mercilessly. Print out more resumes than you think you will need – you never know!

Step 5 – Write a 30-second speech

Do the elevator routine. You know, imagine you’ve got just 30 seconds of the big boss’ time to impress them in. Think carefully about what you want to cover so that you:

  • Introduce yourself
  • Target (what are you interested in)
  • State relevance (i.e. why you should be considered)
  • Clarify the benefit of engaging you
  • Hook them (an interesting fact about yourself that will entice them to start talking)

Try reading slowly and clearly into a microphone (or get someone to time you) so that you can see how many words you are likely to say in 30 seconds.

On the day

Step 6 – Dress to impress

It doesn’t matter which jobs interest you nor how casual you think others will look, you should always dress smartly and in a businesslike attire. You need to demonstrate to potential employers that you respect them and take them seriously so don’t wear overbearing deodorant or perfume, nor anything that is too tight, revealing, or that creases easily.

Now is not the time for Mufti.

Step 7 – The early bird gets the worm

Don't be the last to arrive!

Be at the head of the queue when the job fair opens. Don’t make an undignified entrance by getting into a brawl (!) but equally don’t let others get to your first choice employer before you if you can help it.

However, if your favorite employer is busy, go for your second choice and so on. Never get distracted by visually appealing booths that aren’t on your ‘must see’ list.

Step 8 – Meet the recruiters’ eyes and talk clearly

Make eye contact

Looking someone in the eye helps reassure them of your own integrity and sincerity. No matter how shy you are or how much you suffer from nerves, this is your moment in the sun and you need to shine back. If this were a speed-dating event, you’d have no more than a few seconds in which to make a favorable impression and a job fair is no different in this respect. Wow employers with your honed spiel, ask intelligent questions, and listen attentively to the answers. Make sure that you leave with a contact name and number and that they go away with your resume.

There’s quite a helpful (and mildly amusing) video on Youtube although the acting is a bit wooden.

Step 9 – The more, the merrier

This is a golden opportunity to network so, even if a company doesn’t seem relevant, give them a visit (if time permits) and definitely leave them with your contact details. One thing is absolutely for certain – that you never know what is going to come up trumps. As the old saying goes, “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince”. So, pucker up!

Network, network, network.

After the event

Step 10

Always follow up

Follow up with a ‘thank you for seeing me’ email, or quick phone call (don’t pick Monday mornings or Friday afternoons to ring!) – just something to remind them you exist and are still interested. Understand that you are one of (possibly) hundreds that may have been seen so don’t get huffy if you aren’t instantly remembered and always be sensitive to being considered a pest.

A job fair is a golden opportunity to kill a lot of birds with one stone. Make sure it’s a nicely-rounded stone and that your aim is true.