By: Jessica Holbrook Hernandez
If you live in a medium to large city, you probably see job fairs advertised at least once a month, if not once a week. Job fairs can be a great resource in your job search, but you have to be strategic about which ones you attend and what you do once you're there.
1. Arrive prepared. Just as you would for a networking session, you should arrive at a job fair with printed copies of your resumes and business cards. It's also a good idea to have a nice looking name tag; you can buy supplies to make your own for less than $5 at an office supply store. Bringing a pen and portfolio provides you with a practical way to take notes. While business casual attire is often appropriate at networking events, wearing a suit and looking your professional best will help you stand out in the sea of candidates at a job fair.
2. Be strategic Realistically, many job fairs feature employers who simply don't hire people who do what you do. If you have a background in finance, going to a manufacturing jobs fair will probably waste your time. Determine which companies will be present before you commit to attending a job fair. Go online to look up the companies you're not familiar with to see if any match your interests. If you've recently applied for a job with any of the companies that will be attending, it gives you instant credibility to approach a recruiter and say, "Hi, my name is Jane, and I applied for your corporate accounting position last week. Can you tell me more about it?"
3. Early bird gets the worm The media love to talk about the unemployment situation in the U.S., so chances are you've seen images of hundreds - or even thousands - of candidates lined up outside other job fairs. The time you invest in each fair is the primary reason why you should be strategic about which ones you choose to attend. That being said, a fair can offer the opportunity for invaluable face time with recruiters from companies you're specifically targeting. If you determine that it would be advantageous to attend a particular job fair, you MUST get there early. We're talking an hour and a half before it starts. You want to be one of the first faces in front of your target employer -before everyone starts completely blurring together.
Used effectively, job fairs can be just the tool you need to get your foot in the door. The key is to prepare, prepare, prepare so that you can effectively use your limited face time with the participating employers.