November 13, 2013
Tips for successfully working a job fair
A friend recently asked me whether a job fair would be helpful for her job search and networking goals. Since she is a senior-level project manager with more than 10 years of experience, my reply was: "Probably not at your level."
Although networking events and job fairs have some similarities, the audiences they target are usually much different. Job fairs are typically most successful for companies hiring large numbers of similar profiles, often entry-level positions. Many colleges and universities use the "job fair" model for graduating seniors to give them wide access to a number of hiring companies that have dedicated, traveling recruitment teams.
If you are considering going to a job fair, here are some ways to determine whether it is worth your time.
• Go to the job fair website to see which companies are hiring, and whether they indicate which positions they are looking to fill. If you see a job title that sounds interesting, go to the company's corporate career site and search for the title to see if at least one job posting comes up.
• Run an Internet search on "job fair [company name]" and insert successive years one at a time (i.e., 2012, 2011, 2010). You should be able to evaluate whether a company has high turnover in your field. Cross-reference these numbers with its financial performance using sites such as Yahoo Finance or Hoover's, if the company is publicly traded.
• Find employee testimonials. Go to a site such as Glassdoor.com, where current and former employees can leave anonymous information on the company (both good and bad).
• Read press releases and publications such as The Seattle Times and other local news sites for stories about the companies.
• Check the company's layoff history on The Layoff List.
If you decide to go to a job fair, here are some tips to help you prepare.
• Target the companies and job titles that interest you and tailor a version of your resume for each position type. Bring at least five paper copies of each.
• Practice a 10- to 15-second "elevator pitch" that summarizes you and your career goal in no more than two or three sentences.
• Wear professional attire. You don't need to be in a suit, but at least wear nice business-casual clothing, such as khakis and a button-down shirt for men and slacks and a nice blouse or sweater for women. It's important to choose comfortable shoes; you may be standing in line for quite a while at each employer.
• Arrive early, when you and the employers are fresh. Lunchtime is usually jam-packed, and employers start packing up when the crowd starts thinning.
• Bring a notebook or pad of paper and a pen, and be ready to take notes when you engage an employer in conversation. Install the LinkedIn mobile app on your phone and familiarize yourself with it. Bring a binder or folder as well as a bag for the brochures and information that you will collect.
• Don't grab swag from every booth without speaking to the employer; it looks greedy and tacky.
• Don't just walk up to the employer and ask, "What are you hiring for?" or "What kind of job do you have for me?" Employers submit the job titles ahead of time, and you should have already identified the ones that interest you. Instead, use your minute thoughtfully: "Hi, my name is Joan, and I'm interested in your XYZ position. I just graduated with a bachelor's in business administration, and last summer I interned at Macy's under the senior buyer for men's shoes." Hand them your card and resume, get their contact information and move along.
• Don't monopolize the employer's time with requests for feedback on your resume, or in-depth questions about the job or the company. This is a place to exchange surface information. Write down representatives' contact information or, better yet, ask if you can send them a LinkedIn request then and there, and do so.
• After you get home, follow up immediately with everyone whose contact information you received. Make sure you reference the positions you discussed, remind them that you gave them your resume and include a link to your online information (don't send them your resume again; an online profile is much easier to share with other people in the organization). Be succinct, as you are one of several dozen responses they will be receiving. And don't forget to say "thank you."
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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