Job fairs are a great way to get in front of employers and hiring managers. For those with a less than robust work history or if you are just not getting much traction with your resume, this is an opportunity for you to get face time with a firm who may have otherwise passed on your resume. In some markets, the job fair has evolved and is more of a “pitch fest”. You register for the fair in advance to secure a spot. The first hour, employers pitch their companies and open positions to candidates. The second hour, candidates actually have the opportunity to give a one-minute pitch to the participating employers. After that there is about 2 hours set aside for networking so for you to approach companies you are interested in and vice versa.
With the current national unemployment rate hovering around 3.6%, employers are at the disadvantage. The qualified applicant pool is small. This is good news for job seekers though.
You have less competition on the whole. That said, the current graduating class just hit the market with their newly minted degrees and all the optimism that comes with being young. Take heart for those of you over 30, your work and life experience are going to be your ticket to new opportunities.
While the new grads are fresh from the campus, most of them have not held a job…at all. Parents seem to have taken the line that, “Johnny has his whole life to work. He should enjoy his freedom while he can.” This can make the parent feel like they are giving their child a gift, when in reality, they are in most instances, selling Johnny short. A parent’s job is to raise an adult. Prolonging Johnny’s childhood through undergrad and in some case, grad school, is decreasing his earning power from the start. I am truly surprised at how many students do not even pursue internships while in school, let alone a part-time job.
Putting your best foot forward is key at a job fair. First, you need to dress the part. This IS an interview. Employers are going to size you up the minute they lay eyes on you. Be professional.
Second, have a portfolio with a pad and pen to take notes.
Third, have copies of your resume, both loose to hand out, and in envelopes, complete with a calling card to distribute. Calling cards are a professional way to convey your contact information or include links to your personal website or your LinkedIn profile. I feel badly when I see candidates handwriting their information on a yellow legal pad on a recruiter’s table. This is not a great impression to leave. Invest in a run of personal calling cards to represent your personal brand and have at the ready for job fairs, networking events, and on hand for when an unexpected opportunity presents itself.
Fourth….RESEARCH. You can typically get a list of participating employers prior to the event. Do your homework! Look up their websites. Google news articles about companies you are interested in to know what their latest achievements or endeavors may be. Check for their current job postings. If you find a posting that interests you, prepare a customized cover letter to submit with your resume to their representative at the fair. Be prepared!
You want to stand out. You don’t merely want to be the best candidate among the sea of competitors; you want to be the ONLY answer to the employer’s problem whether it be his need for a marketing director, social media maven, accounting whiz, administrative mastermind, or an operations game changer. This is your chance to look the part, deliver your elevator pitch, and be the employer’s hero.