One of the keys to a successful job search is a positive attitude. Another one is tenacity. And you’ll want to have boatloads of both when attending a job fair! Job fairs come in all varieties, and the more information you have, the better. Here are some hints to make your life a little easier when navigating them.
Expect the Unexpected
Would you believe that some job fairs are designed not in fact for the job seekers, but for the companies themselves? It’s true. Job fairs are sometimes simply used as marketing tools.
Have you ever found yourself waiting patiently in line to speak with someone, resume in hand, only to be met with a sales spiel? Sometimes companies or organizations such as vocational trade schools or nonprofits are there to create visibility for their name or gather enrollments or volunteers.
While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can feel a little off putting if you’re not expecting it. Should you find yourself on the receiving end of a heavy sales pitch, simply smile graciously, say thank you, and move along. Often times the venue hosting the job fair will have a list of employers attending available before the event. A good way to prepare is to see who’s on that list, and research the organizations beforehand. Check their website and look for any open positions.
Focus on the Future
Chances are the companies recruiting at a job fair have a limited number of positions to fill. There are probably hundreds of people in the room, and only a handful of opportunities. So rather than sweat buckets worrying about all your competition as you elbow them out of the way (not a good idea anyway) think instead of laying down the groundwork for future opportunities.
Job fairs are really all about networking. You have the chance to meet hiring managers and key professionals. Take the time to introduce yourself, share your business or contact card, and ask a few key questions such as, “I’m not in the market for a new position right now, but I’m researching industries for future opportunities. Where do you see your company going in the next year?”
This takes the immediate pressure off the conversation and allows you to make connections in a different way. Don’t forget to get their business card too, and follow up with a short e-mail or card to say thank you. This will set you above the crowd and will pave the way for future conversations. Keep in touch with these connections. They’re just like seeds that need watering!
Dress the Part
I’ve presented at job fairs before, and I’ve seen a range of attire. If there’s ever a time you want to remain “forgettable” this is it! That person approaching me in a floor length ball gown and hat? I still remember her. I also remember the gentleman who just returned from a very sweaty run, wearing jogging shorts and a faded baseball cap!
Wearing neutral, professional clothing that covers your body appropriately in colors such as blue, gray, black or brown shows you understand what business attire is. (Granted, there may be times when a job fair is creative or casual – take note and dress the part!) If you aren’t sure of the dress code, err on the conservative side.
Another hint? Wear dress pants or trousers with pockets. You will want to keep mints and pens on hand, and you’ll also be gathering or handing out your contact cards.
And Finally – Manage Your Expectations
Job fairs should be only one part of your search strategy. I’ve seen people get very excited and put a lot of stock into their time visiting one, only to be disappointed later. While it is possible to secure a position at a fair (especially in retail and other entry level fields), the reality is that more times than not, you won’t actually get an interview.
Treat the job fair as a place to practice your professionalism skills and “elevator speech”, make new connections, and learn more about the companies in your area. These skills won’t go to waste!