Many job seekers tend to overlook job fairs. They can be crowded, busy, competitive and confusing events. But they offer you the opportunity to contact many potential employers all within one place, and they can help you land a job.
Here's what you need to do to get the most out of these events:
1. Do advance research. Your goal is to target the most promising employers at upcoming job fairs. To do that, you need to know who those employers are and what they offer. Usually, the promotional materials or advertisements for job fairs will list participating employers and the general types of jobs they have open. Get online and search for information about the companies you are interested in. Knowing more about the companies than the other job seekers who visit their booths will help you make a memorable impression. The more you know, the better.
2. Bring enough résumés. Bring at least 25 copies of your résumé (more if it's a large event).
3. Be prepared to fill out applications. Most companies will not accept a résumé instead of an application. So even if you provide them with a nice résumé, you'll probably be asked to fill out an application form, too. Be sure to bring a pen and a "cheat sheet" with the information you'll need to complete job applications on the spot. This is better than taking the applications home and sending them back later, as many job seekers will do. You'll beat them to the punch!
4. Dress for success. First impressions are important. Just because job fairs tend to be friendly, informal events, don't be too casual. Dress and act professionally, be enthusiastic, and remember to smile.
5. Arrive early. Pick up a booth-location map and plan your route. By arriving early, you may be able to get in and out before it gets too crowded. Visit your targeted companies first, then "shop around" and do some networking.
6. Think "Quality" over "Quantity." It's much better to spend quality time talking with only a few, well-targeted employers who are looking for your specific skills, than to drop off your résumé at every booth you see.
7. Be prepared for interviews. Some companies may want to do short, on-the-spot interviews at the job fair. Be prepared to talk about your best selling points, the assets and skills you will bring to the company. Doing research, as suggested in Step 1, will help you to design your answers to meet the companies' specific needs. As the interview is wrapping up, remember to ask what the next steps are.
8. Keep track of where you submit your résumés. Collect business cards and make a list of the companies you apply for. Jot notes about conversations you have with representatives or topics discussed during interviews. This will help you when following up later.
9. Send thank-you letters. Send thank-you letters within 24-48 hours to each of the companies/representatives you spoke with. Even if there was no real interview, doing this will help you to stand out in their minds among the hundreds of job seekers who visited their booth during the job fair. Tell them how much you appreciated the time they took to talk with you and answer your questions. Mention the name or location of the fair and the positions you discussed, and reiterate your interest in working for their companies.
10. Follow up. Depending on their answers to your "what are the next steps" question (see Step 7), follow up appropriately with the companies for which you applied.
Follow these steps, and that busy, crowded job fair may just land you the job of your dreams!
Bonnie Lowe is author of the popular Job Interview Success System and free information-packed ezine, "Career-Life Times." Find those and other powerful career-building resources and tips at her website: best-interview-strategies.com.