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 selecting. 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 are a great match for 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.
Prepare to stand out
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 résumé 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.
Don't count on your résumé to buy you extended attention from an employer. Every minute of a company's time at a job fair is precious. Well before the event, practice a pitch that's about the length of a TV commercial. Write it out, memorize it and rehearse it in front of a friend willing to provide a critique. The pitch should establish who you are, what your specialties are and how you can benefit the business.
Focus on the little things
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.
Lose the posse
It can be comforting to attend a big event with a friend or two, but would you bring them along to a conventional job interview? Remember that the idea is to stand out and make new connections.
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.
Swag isn't free
You're here to find work, not to accumulate stuff you'll discover buried deep in a desk drawer the next time you move. Loading up on freebies looks unprofessional.
Follow up for maximum effect
Keep in mind the 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.