Attending a job fair can seem a little like speed dating. You're one of many in a line of candidates who meet with participating employers so quickly there is barely time to shake hands and say hello before being rushed along. With a little effort, however, you can use this brief time to your advantage. Here's how to stand out at job fairs:
If you treat a job fair as a simple matter of presenting yourself for selection, you're cheating yourself. You should be the one doing the selection. That begins with being choosy about the events you attend. A job fair that neither fits your specialty nor offers jobs in cities you would consider working in probably won't be worth your time. Once you've found a suitable event, don't worry about making an impression on every employer there. Instead, create a list of the three or four that matches your professional goals and interests. Don't overlook less familiar firms, which may have excellent career opportunities while attracting less competition. After you've made contact with each of your top targets, investigate additional companies as time permits.
While your time with an employer during the fair may be brief, approach the event as though you were preparing for several conventional job interviews that just happen to be scheduled on the same day. Ask members of your network what they know about the employers you're targeting and research those firms' current priorities. Come up with a few questions that demonstrate your familiarity with each company. Dress as you normally would for an interview and prepare a resume that's customized for each of your top choices. Bring hard copies with you to the fair, even if you submitted your résumé online when you registered.
The finer points of job-fair behavior can make the difference between a successful event and a waste of time. Here are some tips that can lead to better results. Use the whole event. When you're standing in line to meet an employer or get lunch, introduce yourself to people around you. Take an interest in them, whether they're on the hiring or job-seeking side, and let them know your own story. It's a low-stakes way to practice your pitch, as well as a chance to build your network.
Keep in mind that a job fair isn't over once you head back home. After the event, send your new contacts a brief thank-you email that reiterates what you can offer their companies. Remind them of any distinguishing points you discussed.
It's true that most aspects of a job fair are out of your control. But that doesn't mean it's an entirely random affair. If you approach it as enduring a day of drudgery in exchange for a long-shot chance at a job offer, it's unlikely to do you any good. But if you're selective and assertive about the parts of the process you can control, you'll have good reason to feel optimistic about your chances.
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