Preparation is key to maximizing opportunities at career fair
Dear Sam: After spending 13 years with my last employer, I was recently laid off. The job-search process is new to me. There is a local career fair that I thought would be a good kickoff to my search. What should I do to prepare myself for the event? — Jack
Dear Jack: I’m sorry to hear about your recent job loss, and I think the career fair will be a great way to start your search.
Career fairs can be overwhelming, so preparing for them is a great way to make the most of the opportunities that will be there. At the very least, getting out for the day, dressing professionally and being prepared to sell yourself will do wonders for your psyche and self-confidence. As an additional bonus, you will get a head start on sharpening your interviewing and networking skills.
I am seeing a resurgence of event-based recruiting, so likely, this will not be the only career fair you will attend. Here are some tips to make sure you get the most out of the experience.
Review the list of exhibitors.
You need to do this for several reasons. First, when you walk up to a booth, it will be impressive if you know something about the exhibitor. The worst question to ask a prospective employer is, “What do you do?” Do some research to learn about the companies that will be represented, taking the time to review recent press articles so you are aware of the direction the companies are heading. You can also peruse the career sections of their websites to get an idea of what types of skills they are looking for. This will be important when you are telling the employers what you can do for them.
Customize your cover letter.
While you are researching the exhibiting companies, gather contact information and even human resource managers’ names, if at all possible. Use this information to customize your cover letter to each company. Doing so will immediately tell the recruiters you have gone the extra mile and are very interested in working for them.
Prepare your sales pitch.
Develop a succinct answer to the request, “Tell me about yourself.” By doing so, you will maximize your time with the recruiter versus stumbling and taking five minutes to say the same thing. Tailor your statement to suit the needs of each employer; don’t spend your time telling them what you want to do or your life history. Focus this statement on the value you can offer the employer, highlighting your core competencies and providing concrete examples that reinforce your claims.
Map out your strategy.
When you get to the career fair, find out where each company of interest is exhibiting, and map out a strategy to visit each booth. Don’t be discouraged if you see long lines. If you need to, return to a crowded exhibit at a more convenient time, keeping a list of the exhibitors you have visited so you don’t leave the fair forgetting to speak to one of your prospects.
Ask for business cards.
Upon closing your discussion with each hiring manager, politely ask for his or her business card so you can follow up on the opportunity with a second copy of your resume and a phone call.
Dress for the job you want.
Even though a career fair often seems less formal than an individual interview, you should still take the time to dress for the job you want. Take this opportunity to put your best foot forward, both on paper and in person. Remember, you are essentially going on an interview and competing against hundreds of others, so take the time to dress well to make a great first impression.
By preparing yourself for the career fair, you will make the most of this opportunity, engage yourself in a professional environment and better equip yourself for future interviews.