Yes, you read correctly— job fairs DO require strategy. Don’t go through the motions and only hope to be hired. Take action with creative strategies to get you to the next step in the hiring process!
I have a lot of students ask me for advice on effective ways to “succeed” at job fairs. Seems simple enough, but the fact of the matter is, job fairs are a catch 22. If the job fair is marketed and promoted well, it is reflected in the attendance. For you, the job seeker, this means increased competition with limited available positions. All signs point to a job fair as an intuitive process—you attend, you network, you spark interest, you talk about yourself a lot, and you hope for a phone call for the first interview. This all sounds great, but I failed to mention that most of the other students are doing the same EXACT thing. So how will you set yourself apart from the competition?! Simple, start your preparation before they do.
Remember, it is THEIR job to get YOU a job—connect with the hiring manager!
Think of it this way – in order to network with the hiring manager or recruiter effectively at the job fair, you must find a way to communicate with them before the job fair. Take the following actions to prepare for your event.
- Calibrate your “success barometer.” Define and quantify what success at a job fair means to you…and be realistic!
- Do your homework before the job fair. Research the companies with which you want to connect.
- Visit the websites of these companies. Verify the current job openings and get contact information for the hiring manager.
- Follow through and actually contact the hiring manager. Ask her intelligent and specific questions about the ideal candidate, the position and the overall company.
- Focus your resume, cover letter and website (if applicable). Concentrate on some of the hiring manager’s responses on her ideal candidate and how your qualifications will exceed the job requirements.
- ”Script” a conversation off of her responses. Find a way to use the power words in your resume in your dialogue when you speak with her or her recruiters either on the phone, via email or at the actual job fair.
Think differently than the norm
Good networking is not measured by how outgoing you are or by how well you speak. Sure, they contribute to the big picture, but that’s just about it. You must understand that one of the main components behind effective networking in “large” social settings (such as job fairs) is observation and reaction. This means observing your surroundings; observing people, their actions and the reactions. Who is talking? What are they talking about? Observations are both audio and visual. The advantage you have before entering the job fair: You already have a profile of who you will be networking with, as you have already spoken to her and know she will be attending this specific job fair. When you introduce yourself, treat the meeting as a first interview.
Get different results than the norm
Many job fairs will give you paperwork when you sign in and register. Check out the floor plan and see where your target companies are located on the floor (if you haven’t done so already). You told the company you contacted prior to the show that you would stop by their table at a specific time. Hopefully you are planning to set that time up towards the end of the show. Why?
- The traffic and attendance of the show should be slower. Your competition got there first thinking they would win over the employer before anyone else. (Little do they know that 30 others stopped by after they did saying and doing the same things – they’re just going through the motions.)
- Better chances of selling yourself in person. With less traffic and people swarming the employers, you will have the chance to have an actual one on one conversation without a ridiculous waiting line. Conversation can be more free-flowing and not as rushed, meaning you can sell yourself while branding your resume. Just in case you need to make any other adjustments to your pitch, get to the show early and walk around honing in on your potential employer. What is the employer saying – is it consistent to what she told you before the show? What’s the attendance like at her table? Is she smiling a lot, listening, talking? After she meets someone and collects their resume, does she write on it maybe as a reminder or a positive / negative remark?
- If you are one of the last to meet and talk with her she will naturally remember you. Your resume also will be on the top of the pile, assuming she doesn’t re-arrange them. Instead of wasting her time (and yours) on questions about the available position which has been posted for the past month, focus on thinking forward—branding your resume, matching it to your dialogue and skill sets, and find out the timeframe when qualified candidates will be contacted.
Different thinking yields different results
A majority of your competition will be just delivering their resumes. Employers will remember you as a true candidate, not just another applicant dropping off their resume. Savvy preparation and thinking on a different level will give you all the chances to succeed, whatever your success barometer may be. The job market is tight, which means you have to be even more creative and knowledgeable with employment opportunities. Feel free to email me with any questions/concerns at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org. Wishing you the best in your job searches.