Win big at a job fair
There's no Ferris wheel, but a job fair can be a pile
o' fun when you make networking contacts and get job offers. Learn
how to have a successful visit.
When you walk into a job fair, you'll see rows and
rows of booths, each manned by grinning recruiters eager to hire
you. There's no cotton candy, no tattooed carnival barkers, and
no flashing lights, so maybe it doesn't sound like a lot of fun
at first. But as far as your career is concerned, this could be
a four-ticket ride.
Job fairs are useful for both active seekers of employment
and those just thinking of job-hunting sometime in the future. Participating
companies pay for a spot to provide information on their industry
and organizations, as well as their current job openings.
This means that a job fair is a great educational
opportunity if you're still pondering that big question of what
to do when you grow up. Becky Garrett, event coordinator of the
Indiana Collegiate Job Fair, says students often attend these events
to figure out what career interests them, so they can pick a major.
Even if you're a card-carrying member of the work
force, a job fair can give you a glimpse at what companies are looking
for so you can keep your skills up-to-date . . . just in case you
find yourself job hunting again.
"They're good for finding out what people are looking
for superficially in terms of skills," explains computer programmer
and job fair veteran Mark Bridgwater of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The No. 1 reason to go to a job fair, of course,
is to find a job. That is what they're selling after all, isn't
And that's an important concept to remember. The companies
are there to sell themselves to you. You are the customer -- so
you have a certain amount of power. Sounding better all the time,
Generally, if the company pays for a booth, you can
be assured they're actively seeking employees. So, in essence, you
have the luxury of "shopping" for a job. You can speak to recruiters
and ask them questions about the company and about their needs.
Once you've gotten some scoop on who they are and what they want,
you can then present yourself in an appropriate manner.
Queasy on the Ferris wheel
While companies may be serious about hiring folks
from a job fair, they usually send only a representative. Which
means you're likely to be dealing with recruiters or human resource
representatives, rather than the people doing the hiring, Bridgwater
Also, while there may be dozens or even hundreds of
companies at the event, there will be many more applicants. This
brings up another potential problem with relying on a job fair when
you are looking for work: the competition could be fierce.
"Job fairs are about as useful as answering an ad
in the classifieds," Bridgwater says. "The theory for the employer
is the same: collect as many resumes as possible, and then cherry-pick
from that. You have to look really good on paper because that's
all that gets passed along to the person who actually makes the
Into the fun house
Don't be disappointed if you walk out without
a job. Just like the county fair, few people walk off with the big
prizes. However, you'll probably make appointments for interviews
and valuable contacts for future networking. Oh, and you could make
out with some free nifty pens and hard candy. Even job hunting comes
with consolation prizes.
Before you plan to attend a job fair, be aware that
there are different types:
- A commercial job fair is open to the general
public looking for any kind of job. These may be for-profit ventures
organized by a company or they may be sponsored by a local government
agency that helps people get jobs.
- Job fairs found on university campuses or
sponsored by universities tend to target professional jobs. Some
even require you to have a bachelor's degree to attend.
- You can also find specialty job fairs based
on cultural group or profession, such as an NAACP job fair or
an engineering job fair.
Some job fairs charge a small entrance fee, around
$10. However, university events are often free for students.
If you believe you are ready to take the plunge
at a job fair, follow these tips to make it a successful ride:
- Get a list of participating employers
ahead of time. This may be provided in an ad or flier, or
you can look online for information on that particular job fair.
Learn more about the companies, find which ones have jobs requiring
your skills and which ones you would want to work for. This will
save you tons of time once you get there. In other words, you
wouldn't want to waste time at the basketball-shooting booth when
you can make a beeline straight for the kissing booth.
- Have several copies of your resume
on professional-quality paper.
- Dress like it's an interview. This
will be the first impression you make on people who may hire you.
Act professionally, and they'll take note. Sometimes, according
to Ream, you might even get a mini-interview right there at the
booth, so be prepared.
- Wear comfy shoes. Most job fairs are
held in a big place, such as convention centers or an auditorium.
You'll be spending lots of time on your feet. Don't make the experience
agonizing. Wear something appropriate but comfortable, and you
can focus on more important things than your feet.
- Have a mini-spiel prepared about yourself.
"We recommend you prepare a one-minute 'commercial.' Have prepared
what you want the employer to know about you," Garrett says. She
says if you give them the basic info, such as what degree you
hold, a summary of your work experience and career goals, then
the recruiter will be able to connect with you and ask more questions.
- Bring a briefcase or professional-looking
bag. You will be collecting business cards and brochures,
and you'll need somewhere to stuff them other than your pockets.
- Carry a notepad, preferably in a professional-looking
folder, and pen. You will want to make notes of people you
meet and things you learn for future reference. After talking
to multitudes of well-coifed, gray-suited recruiters, things are
going to start to blur. Take a moment to jot your thoughts down
after you find an employer who interests you, so you can follow
up. Additionally, depending on how many job seekers there are,
a recruiter could run out of business cards, and you'll need to
copy down their vital information.
Unless you're one of those lucky folks who found your
dream job in the aisles of a job fair, you'll want to do a little
follow up work to fully make the event a success. Afterward, figure
out which of the employers you'd like to work for, and send a simple
thank-you note to the recruiter with some reminder of your conversation
that's likely to ring a bell. This little touch could make a difference.
Job fairs are not frequent events, so when one comes
to town, it'll be well advertised in the newspaper and perhaps on
TV. You can also check with a college career center if they know
of any future job fairs in your area. And, of course, there's always
the good ol' World Wide Web to find more info.
-- Updated: Dec. 17, 2004