How to get the most benefit from a job fair
IT CAN BE a daunting prospect: going to a job fair and figuring out how to
navigate through dozens or hundreds of exhibition tables filled with potential
It's a chance for you to shine, but there are many others vying for the
Donna L. Weisblatt, a career consultant and co-owner of Brown-Weisblatt Career
Services, in Morgan Hill, Calif., offers tips for job seekers who are about to attend a
job fair on how to prepare, perform, and follow up.
Why go to a job fair?
It's not just [a matter of] looking for job openings. There are other benefits:
researching companies, identifying who's hiring, practicing interviewing skills, and
practicing networking skills.
What should you do before the fair?
* Invest in a business card so that you have something to hand out to company
representatives and other job seekers.
* Develop and refine your résumé, and bring many clean, crisp copies.
* Identify at least 20 companies you wish to target. It's wise to go through the
listing of companies that will be represented at the fair; it will help you select
companies that you'll then be able to research beforehand. In an ideal world, you'll be
able to find out what their challenges are.
* Create a 60-second introduction that summarizes your experience, skills, personal
traits, why you are looking for a new position, and what position you are seeking.
Memorize it. They're noticing how you present yourself first, and then they'll hear you
* Create achievement stories from your previous work experience that demonstrate
how you solved problems, handled situations, met challenges.
For example, 'While I was in charge of making widgets, I ran into this problem, and
this is how I handled it' -- that's what people want to hear. You really give punch to
your introduction that way.
* Prepare a list of questions for the companies. You need to know more about the
company: You're buying, they're buying; and [by the same token], you're selling,
How should you mentally prepare for the fair?
Have a positive outlook. Approach the fair with enthusiasm and confidence and have
fun. Every one of those places is an opportunity.
You're going there to collect information and make connections, as well as to
practice your job-search skills.
I don't think you should go there expecting to get a job. You may [get a job], but
there are so many other reasons [to go].
What should you do during the fair to get the most out of the experience?
* Don't rush through the fair -- don't go just for an hour or two. Plan to be there
for a day or two half-days.
There's just so much opportunity there. Maximize your opportunity.
Take someone with you -- a colleague, someone who's also in the market for a job --
to share information and to help you to stay longer. Then you'll stick it out [at the
fair] together. Two heads are better than one, as they say. You'll get a lot more
benefit from it.
Ideally, you want to hand out a copy of your résumé and talk to someone
at the table, to each company there -- because you never know what you'll learn. Not
all available jobs will appear in the listings.
* Dress conservatively and professionally -- at least accordingg to what's
appropriate for your target company. But leave the shorts and Birkenstocks at home, no
* Be prepared to stand in line to talk to company representatives. You can make use
of that time to talk to people around you. You may want to hand out your business card
to them and collect theirs.
* Collect company information from the tables -- brochures, annual reports,
whatever they have at the table. They're wonderful research sources.
* When you approach a company representative, smile, shake hands firmly, and be
prepared to launch into your 60-second introduction. Be prepared with questions to ask
them about their company.
* Always request business cards that enable you to follow up easily later. You can
offer yours along with your résumé.
* Be prepared for a screening interview. Although few people actually get hired at
a job fair, you need to be prepared for an interview on the spot.
* Visit every table if you possibly can.
* Smile, thank each [person] with whom you speak, be positive, and have fun.
What should you do to follow up with potential employers after the fair?
You do need to follow up with companies of interest and especially companies with
which you've had a screening.
Sort through the information you have collected, and take the next step with each
company of interest -- whatever that step may be.