According to Abby Kohut, owner of the consulting firm Staffing Symphony, a career fair is an interview in disguise. You have 30 seconds or less to tell the recruiters about yourself, quickly capture their attention, and entice them to want to learn more. "Yes", "No", and "Maybe" decisions are made about you on the spot. Typically, recruiters have three piles--the "Keepers," the "I don't know what to do with this person but I would like to do something" pile, and the "I'm really not sure what this person was thinking" pile.
No matter how good a fit you are, don't expect to walk away from a job fair with a job or a promise of an interview, "It's important to keep in mind that the goal of a career fair is not to get the job, but to learn about different companies and make connections to start the process," says Andrea St. James, career counselor at Western New England College.
Here are some tips from St. James on how you can end up in the "Keepers" pile.
Do your homework. Most fairs will provide a list of attending companies. Know which companies you want to approach, and research them and their open positions. On a sheet of paper, briefly list the company name, an overview, and a list of questions for the company. Bring this information on the day of the career fair.
Make sure your resume is in tip-top shape. Print it on good-quality paper and have many copies ready to hand out. If you know you're interested in specific companies, write cover letters targeted to the positions or organizations.
Is your resume the best it can be? Take a free resume evaluation test to see if yours passes muster.
If your resume needs a pick-me-up, use an online Resume Builder to create a professional-quality resume in minutes.
Have your introductory speech ready. Practice your introduction many times in the mirror and to others. From your research, you'll identify what traits and/or skills the organizations find important. Make sure you briefly highlight those qualities in your introduction. Have a shortened version in case time is limited and an extended version for when time is on your side. Be ready to start a conversation with the recruiter yourself.
Practice your handshake. Make eye contact and introduce yourself in a confident tone. First impressions are some of the strongest impressions.
Dress as if you're going to an interview. Only have one suit? Use it. If you go in for an interview, nine times out of ten, the recruiter will not remember what you wore the day of the fair. They will remember you if you are not professionally dressed or if you let your clothes speak for you (too loud, crazy or vibrant).
Visit the fair in the first two hours. Later in the day, some companies may have left, or recruiters may be tired from talking with others.
The day of the fair, take time to prepare. Before walking into the room, identify where your targeted companies are located. Pick one company, review the sheet you prepared before the event, and confidently walk up to the table. Make sure you take time to review and prepare before talking with each company.
It helps if you have a clear vision of what job you're looking for. Take a free career test for help identifying the best jobs for you.
Follow up! When you're done speaking with the recruiter, collect the company information and, most importantly, the business card of the recruiter. Even if you submit a resume and cover letter that day, follow up with the recruiter via an email (with your resume and cover letter attached) stating that it was nice to talk with him or her at the career fair.