Fall is just around the corner if you can believe it! I don’t know about you but September always feels like the start of a new year coming off of the summer months where we put our careers and job searches on the backburner a bit.
Organizations do the same, recruitment goes on hiatus or really slows down during the summer. Which means it picks up in September again! The fall is one of the busiest hiring seasons of the year (January is the other). It is also Career and Job Fair season!
Going to Career and Job Fairs is a great way to build your network – not only are you interacting with recruiters and hiring managers who are hiring RIGHT NOW. But you are also getting great practice at delivering your Elevator Pitch and learning how to get people invested in your career.
Want to make sure you stand out and leave a great impression? Well here are 9 keys to success before, during and after the fair.
Before the Job Fair:
1. Research, Research, Research
Most fairs have an online list of the organizations that are attending. Make a list of the companies you want to make sure you get to and prioritize the list by importance and interest. Take a look at the company websites to gather some information that you can use when meeting with them. Don’t forget to see if they have any interesting job postings!
2. Prepare Yourself
Get your elevator pitch ready to go! Use my handy How To guide to help you out and practice. Focus on sounding authentic, practice different iterations of it depending on who you are talking to (recruiter, hiring manager, potential peer) and their company. Try saying it on the fly.
Also, be prepared to be interviewed. Career Fairs offer interview rooms for companies, I remember using them and them being use! When someone great came along that I knew was a perfect match for an open role, I would ask if they had time to be interviewed. We would go to the room and I would do a typical telephone pre-screen interview (a mostly resume based interview). I never expected the person to interview perfectly because it was so last minute so don’t stress too much. But be prepared and ready for anything.
Also prepare your outfit. The dress for success moniker really works here. Depending on the industry you may not need to wear a suit but you definitely need to wear business/business casual.
3. Get your documents in order
Print off your resume (making sure it is Modern and set to Win), making sure you bring enough copies. A good rule of thumb is to bring two per company that you really want plus a few extra!
also recommend getting some business cards printed with your name and contact details as not all companies collect resumes.
Bring a notebook, this will come in handy to jot down any names, instructions or notes.
During the Job Fair:
1. Have Patience
There are going to be lines, be prepared for that. Do NOT try and cut to the front that will not look good on you. Have patience and keep your cool as you wait.
As a recruiter, I loved Career Fairs but they were also exhausting. I would talk to hundreds of people and would need to try to give each and every one of them my complete interest and attention.
Don’t forget that. You only have to talk to 15-20 people probably, a recruiter is talking to 10x that at least. So cut them a bit of slack. Advocate for yourself in a clear and concise manner but don’t stress if you spend a minute less than someone else or they don’t seem as engaged – it isn’t you, they are just tired! Be kind to them.
I have had people who were so sick of spending 5 minutes in line and just weren’t happy with how engaged I was with them and they would take it out on me, getting irate, abrasive and sometimes insulting. I get it, the job search is hard but you will never get hired treating people like this! If you find yourself getting upset while in line, leave, calm down and come back.
2. Make the Most of it.
You will probably spend 1-2 minutes with each individual so plan your time effectively. Offer a firm handshake which gives a great first impression. Deliver your elevator pitch again focusing on being genuine and not robotic. Be prepared to answer a question or two. A common question that I used to ask was “what brings you here today”. Answer it showing you have put in the work so tailor it to your skill set and interests to be in alignment with theirs.
Ask a couple insightful questions, again showing your research and fit for the role and company. And finally ask what any next steps would be.
You can ask for a business card but don’t be surprised if you don’t get a personal one, most companies have generic ones printed specifically for career fairs. If they don’t have it then ask them for their full name, this way you can find them on LinkedIn.
3. Go off plan.
So I’m going suggest something weird. As soon as you arrive don’t make a beeline towards your number one company, instead go to the company you are least interested in, the one that wasn't even a contender for your list. Why? Use it as a practice ground for the 1-2 minutes. It will allow you to clear the cobwebs in a no pressure situation as you aren’t interested in them at all.
After you have gone to your top companies, walk around the fair, check out some of the companies that didn’t make your shortlist. If something seems to call out to you then follow that, go up to their booths and chat. You just never know what can happen!
After the Fair:
1. Take Notes
As soon as you get home, if not sooner. Write down notes. Go through each company you visited and write down tidbits of the conversations, answers they gave, questions they asked. You spoke to so many people you want to make sure you don’t forget the key information! If you didn’t get a business card, recheck their names in your notes to make sure you got them right.
2. Respect any Instructions
Did anyone give you instructions on next steps – apply online, immediately email in your resume, send an email to schedule an interview? Following through on those is your first priority.
3. Follow Through
This is a big one and an oft overlooked step! I went to countless Career Fairs and met thousands of individuals as a Recruiter. You know how many follow up emails I got? Probably less than 100, and I think that is a generous estimate! Those people who followed up were definitely more likely to get called in for an interview. It is an easy way to sell yourself and stand out from the crowd.
If you got a business card, then send those individuals a thank you email reemphasizing your interest in the company and your fit for any open roles (or an ask to be considered for future roles).
If you didn’t get a business card, then look them up on LinkedIn! Send a connection request with a short note thanking them.
Worst case scenario – you don’t get an email or a name. Well don’t worry! Mail the HR department as actual thank you card! Again thanking them for their time and outlining your fit. Don’t include your resume, but do include your contact details!
Do you feel more confident about attending any of the upcoming Career and Job Fairs this fall?
Sara Curto helps people find a career they love by teaching them a new way to job search.
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