April 20, 2011

How to Handle a Job Fair: Prepare in Advance

If you're looking for work, you'll probably be headed to at least one job fair in the coming months. This time of year, most schools tend to host their own fairs and there are countless more held by various organizations all over the country. When you arrive at one though, it can be tough for even the most confident and outgoing people not to feel like a cow in a giant herd. It is easy to feel lost and overwhelmed in the shuffle. There are usually hundreds or thousands or people competing for a few positions at anywhere from 30-100 companies. You only get a few minutes to make an impression and it is nearly impossible to stand out in a sea of people. I know The key though, to success at a job fair, is preparing in advance and following up after. Here's some tips on how to prepare beforehand. Another post will follow shortly with how to handle the followup. 

Elevator Pitch
Everything about a job fair is abbreviated. You essentially have about 10 seconds to make an impression and probably between two and five minutes to talk to the recruiter at all. You need to open with something strong. You've probably heard of an elevator pitch before, but at a job fair it serves not just as an introduction, like it would at an interview, but as a pitch as well. Each company you meet and each position will be a bit different so you need to prepare yourself to be flexible with your introduction. Spend some time in advance thinking about the different types of positions you are interested in and figure out how you can tailor your introduction to the needs of that position and company. If you need help figuring out what to say in the first place, here's a great guide and worksheet that will help you figure it out. 

There will be a lot of companies, it will be crowded, and you will have a limited amount of time both to attend and to meet people. Don't waste time once you arrive learning about the companies and deciding who to talk to. You should do that before you arrive. Spend some time googling every company on the list (most job fairs will publish the companies that are attending online in advance, if they don't try calling or emailing to request one) and determining which ones align with your goals and interests. This will save you time and make you look far more professional when you actually get there. Most importantly, you can determine how many resumes you will likely need to bring. You should have at least two per company you are interested in and some extras just in case. 

Plan of Attack
You may not actually be able to do this before you arrive, but you should at least have the chance to do it when you get there. Find a map of the fair's layout, or at least get a general idea of where companies booths are located. Then, set your goals accordingly. Determine which companies are most important and plan to see them first to be sure you have time to fit them all. Be sure to allow yourself more time than you think you will need. 
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