If you’re in the midst of a career transition, or happen to be in the market seeking a new job, career fairs can be a great way to connect with potential employers. When done well, career fairs are a very effective way of seeking employment opportunities, because they allow you to access a large group of companies and organizations who are looking to hire immediately (or at least in the very near future). They are a low-pressure way for you to get in front of the people who are either making hiring decisions, or who can ensure that your resume gets to the appropriate decision-making individual. Overall, career fairs can be an excellent investment of your time – but it is important that you approach them with care in order to avoid mistakes that could hurt your chances of success. Here are five tips for making the most of your next career fair:
- – Prioritize employers you would most like to visit
Career fairs – particularly large events – can be overwhelming. You want to be as engaging as possible, and to give a great first impression to each person with whom you interact. However, there may not be time to engage meaningfully with every employer there, and you don’t want to miss out on a company that you have a specific interest in working for because you “didn’t have time” to get around to their table and representative. Even worse, you don’t want to find out after the fact that your dream company was there all along and you never even knew they were in the room.
Do some research ahead of time and create a priority list of “must visit” employers. Most career fair sites will list the registered employers on their site for you to review, and will have maps available the day of the event. Take a few moments to highlight for yourself where those VIP employers are located within the venue and ensure that you have enough time allotted to get to them before they become the “one that got away”.
- – Dress to impress
One of my favorite professors from undergrad had a signature saying that has stuck with me far better than anything that I learned from his textbook: “Presentation is everything, and everything is presentation.” This career fair will be your first and best opportunity to get to know a potential employer. You want to stand out – but not because you chose to dress in casual jeans and flip-flops.
Dress professionally and neatly – act as though each interaction at this event is a mini-interview, and understand that you are being vetted for your fitness with these organizations even at this early stage. Your hair should be neat and well-groomed, your nails should be clean and trimmed, and your dress should exude an overall impression of confidence and put-togetherness.
- – Make a plan (and execute it!)
As we’ve already established, career fairs are often large events with a myriad of different employers available for you to interact with. In order to make the best of this opportunity, you should make a plan ahead of schedule and then give yourself plenty of time to execute it. Do your research and know which employers are planning to attend. Prepare your elevator speech and how you will approach them. Budget a set amount of time for each interaction, giving yourself a cushion in the event that a meeting turns into a great conversation or something more. Be Prepared!
- – Prepare your pitch – and make it good!
The elevator pitch is one of the most important networking tools to have in your arsenal. This is a simple, effective way to communicate to any potential employer or connection who you are and what you are about. It should be no longer than about 30 seconds, and should let them know a little bit about who you are and why you might be a good fit for their company, organization, or project. Don’t worry – the purpose of an elevator pitch isn’t to “close the deal” – meaning you shouldn’t worry that you’ve failed if you don’t walk away with a job offer in hand. Rather, the purpose of the pitch is to simply spark an interest in you and your work from whomever you’re delivering it to. Be gracious, be friendly, and be yourself.
- – Take notes and follow up
Here’s where you have a serious opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd – take notes and follow up. One of the primary reasons people who don’t find job fairs to be an effective place to seek employment feel that way is because they often fail to follow up properly once the event is over. When someone hands you their business card or company information, jot a quick note or two on the back about your conversation with the person that will help you remember them in your follow up later (unless you’re in an environment where this is considered culturally insensitive – then you may make notes in your phone or on a separate note pad instead). After you’ve done that, do the actual follow up. Reach out to this contact via email of LinkedIn and thank them for the opportunity to talk. Remind them about your conversation, noting anything that was memorable for you, and then ask for another opportunity to talk more one on one when they’re free. It will make a difference that you took the time to reach out in a personal way, and also help them stay connected with who you are and what they can look for in you to help fulfill their current needs.
The big takeaway here is this: If you plan well, utilize your time in the most efficient ways, and are prepared to follow up with connections that you’ve made after the event is over, you will dramatically increase your chances of finding success with a career fair. Just a little extra attention spent on preparation may make all the difference for you and your job search!
Feel free to contact the Office of Alumni Career Management if you would like to talk to a career consultant in greater detail about how you can maximize the benefits of career fairs.