If you haven’t noticed, March and April seem to be job fair season. It’s time to gird your loins, polish your resumé, and practice your best opening line for employers. Job fairs are a great way to meet companies you otherwise wouldn’t. So many companies only accept online applications, but if they’re attending a job fair you have the opportunity to speak to a representative and gain an edge on the competition. So here are some tips for acing the job fair.
Treat it like an interview
Anytime an employer from a company meets you, they are sizing you up. They’re determining if this person is a potential candidate for their company, this especially includes interactions at job fairs when they expect every student to come prepared. So, prepare for a job fair like you would an interview by researching the company ahead of time, having a few questions to ask, and bringing copies of your resumé to distribute to the companies you want to meet.
Before the job fair…
- Review the list of companies attending the job fair. There should be a list online through the office that hosts the fair, usually your college career services office.
- Determine which companies you would like to meet and research each one. Check their website in the sections entitled About Us, Annual Report, Services, Mission Statement, and any other pertinent section. Also, look in the news for any recent stories about their company.
- Develop a couple questions to ask each company so to engage in a conversation with the representative at the job fair.
- Revise your resumé and have someone else look over it, too. Another pair of eyes can catch things that you might have missed and employers will immediately dismiss a resumé with a typo.
- Professionally dress for the job fair like you would for an interview.
At the job fair…
- Plan to spend at least an hour at the job fair. Arrive early to review the map of the room. There could be anywhere between 40-100+ employers at a job fair and you need to plan your method of speaking to these companies.
- Each company will have a table set up with information about the open positions, business cards, and possibly applications and freebies. DO NOT JUST TAKE THE FREEBIES! Wait until the company representative offers it to you because you don’t want to make the wrong impression.
- Introduce yourself with a firm handshake, a smile, eye contact, and your “30 second commercial” which describes your educational background and any experience. Then ask for more information about the company, but remember NOT to ask for information that you could have found on their website. Refer to the information you learned on the website and then ask a follow-up question about it.
- Keep notes on who you met at each company table and what you spoke about. Write down names, contact information, and anything important to note. This will come in handy later.
- Follow through with your “plan of attack” and don’t just meander around the job fair. Go from company to company table and if you have to wait in line, be patient or visit another company on your list and come back later.
After the job fair…
- Write thank you notes to all employers and companies. Review the notes you took and send a personal thank you note to each person referring to what you discussed at the job fair. Employers have stated that they will review a candidate’s resumé, which they originally dismissed, if a thank you note was sent because it sends a strong message of interest.
- Apply online to any companies that referred you to their website. Some companies have specific guidelines and are not allowed to accept paper copies of resumes, but rather all candidates must follow through with applying online. If you have the option to include a cover letter, refer to meeting the company’s representative at the job fair and use his/her full name.
Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. Connect with Karen via LinkedIn or Twitter.