Job fairs are becoming a popular way for large companies to not only attract and recruit a significant number of job applicants, but to also market themselves to the general public. The larger the booth and the bigger the brand, the more jobs available and the better the company to work for? Not necessarily.
Most people believe that their objective at these fairs should be to use the “machine gun approach” (i.e. hand out their resume at every booth present) or for them to only go to the booths of companies they recognize, ask some basic questions to fake some interest, then hand in their resume. Let me be the first to be burst their bubble; this doesn’t work!
If you don’t already know this, when you approach the booth and have that first conversation, you’re having your first interview with the company. With that fact, job fairs are unique and a great opportunity. If you play your cards right, you may be able to accelerate your job search, so here are five tips to help you maximize your job fair potential.
1. Do Your Research
Like a normal job interview, half the battle is in the initial preparation and the most important part of that preparation is your research. At job fairs, a list of companies that will be attending is normally available ahead of the event. Study this list and divide the companies into 3 categories: ones you’re extremely interested in, those you want to learn more about, and finally companies you have no interest in. One you have these categories, for those companies you’re still interested in, you need to visit their websites, at a minimum.
Click on their About Us page. Learn about what they do, their mission and company values, and what products or services they sell. Next, visit their Career section to learn about the skills they look for in their employees, what open roles are currently available, and get a feel for their corporate culture.
With those that you’re extremely interested in, you’re probably already familiar with these basics. You should then go and visit their News section to read the latest press releases and see the latest issues facing their company/industry. Do a Google a search to see what else is making the headlines. In this research, you’re looking for anecdotes and facts that spark some interesting and unique questions for you to ask and impress the representatives at the fair.
What you want to avoid is asking the basic questions that are constantly heard: What does your company do? What opportunities are available for me? What are you looking for? If you are really interested in a company, these questions should never need to be asked. You should already know the answer.
2. Know What You Want
Now that you know about the companies, it’s time to do research on yourself. This may sound silly, but when someone approaches me at the booth and asks, “what roles are available?”, the first question I ask is, “what are you interested in?” When the response is “anything” or “I don’t know”, that is almost a guarantee that you won’t be getting hired. Before you approach anyone, you need to know what you’re interested in and where you might fit in within the organization.
What are you strengths and weaknesses? What are your biggest accomplishments? What are you most proud of? What are your most important transferable skills? The answers to these questions will form the basis of your 30-second pitch. Other things you should include in these 30-seconds are your name, your education, and why you’re so interested in working for us. Please don’t tell me it’s because we’re such a “prestigious firm” or “it will be a great opportunity to practice what I’ve learned at school”. Be specific and personal, give details.
3. Come Prepared
On the day of, start by coming dressed to impress. Again, since your first conversation at the booth is your first interview, you should dress as you would if you were invited to the office for an actual job interview. Comb you hair, polish up your shoes, and please leave your white socks at home!
Forget your backpacks; come with a nice looking portfolio. It doesn’t need to be very fancy or expensive, but please not the clear plastic folders or boxes. Look professional. Having copies of your resume to hand out is nice, but can be cumbersome to carry around. Also, many companies today would prefer that you apply directly on their website so they can track you properly and they don’t lose your resume in transit. My suggestion is to have perhaps 10 copies made that you reserve for the companies that you’re most interested in.
A better alternative is having professional-looking name cards created to hand out instead. When you’re at the booths, your objective shouldn’t be on trying to shove a resume in front of someone, but to stand out through asking good questions and your 30-second pitch. If you are able to make a genuine connection, exchanging name cards at the end will give you a good chance to kick-start the hiring process with that company. This is much more effective than simply handing over your resume which will get thrown into a box and then pray someone gets back to you.
I’ll continue with the rest of the tips in Part 2…