Monday, November 2, 2009

Career Fair Success Strategies

Career Fair Success Strategies

by Maureen Crawford Hentz

Career Fairs can occasionally be intimidating. As a job-seeker, you must distinguish yourself from hundreds or even thousands of other job applicants. The following are a few simple strategies to help you stand out from the crowd.

Find a Fair. Many career fairs are free, but some require a registration and/or fee. The first place to look for a career fair is your alma mater. Colleges and universities routinely hold career fairs for students and alumni. Call your college's career service office and find out if you need to register and what the general format of the fair will be.
Professional organizations also often sponsor large career fairs at their national and regional conferences. Many organizations require membership for admission to the conference and career fair, but some sell day-long "placement-only" admission. Unsure about which professional associations would be best for you and which career fairs will have what you want? Query the Internet for professional associations in your field (for example, Interior + Design + Association) and see if the resulting Web sites indicate career-fair participants.

Finally, look in the Help-Wanted section of your local newspaper. Many career fairs are listed in their own column. Also look for employers with large ads to see if any indicate "We will be at the ElectroMechanical Job Expo next week!"

Choose the Right Fair. You probably don't want to waste your time at a medical-technology fair if you are looking for a position in education. Do your research. If possible, get the names of companies that will be recruiting at the fair. Hosting agencies often post an abridged list to attract job-seekers like you.

Arrive Early. As a career-fair recruiting veteran, I can confidently attest that my ability to remember names, faces, and details of candidates waned as the day went on. Rolling my materials into each career fair, I set up my table in eager anticipation of the fabulous candidates I would find. As the fair picked up, while my eagerness never diminished, my ability to remember candidate details did. Go early to ensure quality time with the recruiters.

Do a Reconnaissance Circuit First. When you get to the fair, don't go into a frenzy of resume dropping-off. Sit down with the program and decide on the order in which you will talk to recruiters. Many career fair veterans agree that beginning in the back of the room and working your way to the front is the way to go – you are seeing recruiters fresh, while people who started in the front may be starting to lose energy. While you are getting the lay of the land, pick up information from the tables. Information, as well as freebies such as pens, magnets, and stress balls, are there for the taking. Gather information on companies of particular interest and sit down in the candidate lounge. Information may include company annual reports, brochures, and a list of open positions. Review the materials so that you have a starting point for conversation with each recruiter.

Have a Booth Speech. Too many times I would see candidates going down a row of tables asking the dreaded question "Can you tell me a little bit about your company?" As a recruiter, no matter how much you like to talk to people, this question becomes old quickly. Better to have a booth speech that you give to the recruiter. "Hello Aurora, I wanted to introduce myself to you. My name is Janet Ridge. I am an Asian-studies trainer with six years of experience, and I wanted to talk to you about the Training Specialist vacancy at XYZ Company." [Editor's note: See our article, The Elevator Speech is the Swiss Army Knife of Job-Search Tools.]

Hone In. As you begin talking, the recruiter then may ask you questions about yourself or tell you about the position. Ensure that you make eye contact and listen carefully for tidbits that are not mentioned in the written materials. If you are interested in the company or a position therein, ask for the recruiter's business card and leave a resume.
In addition, go back to the candidate lounge and write a short note to the employer. Attach it to your resume and redeposit into the employer's resume box. Your note should be brief and professional and reference your conversation. "Dear Aurora, thank you for spending time with me today at the AsiaAlive! Recruiting Fair. I appreciate your making time to explain the detailed requirements of the Training Specialist position, as well as the history of the position. Please do feel free to contact me directly if you need additional information." This note can be handwritten but should be stapled directly to your resume. At the end of the fair (or sometimes during it), recruiters go through the resumes making notes on impressive candidates. Attaching a note to the resume is a way to distinguish yourself from other candidates who don't bother with this step.

Don't be a Booth Buffoon. Recruiters are there to find many good candidates – not just one. Don't monopolize a recruiter by taking all his/her time. If a line develops behind you, be sensitive to that. Say something like "Thank you so much for speaking with me. I see you have quite a line, and I don't want to monopolize your time." Then, get out of the way. If you are particularly interested in making another contact, it is fine to come back again when the line has died down.
If a recruiter is speaking generally to another candidate, it is perfectly acceptable to join the conversation, make eye contact, and ask questions. It is not necessary to wait in a line for individual one-on-one attention, particularly if you plan to ask a similar question.

After the Fair. Follow-up is extremely important. Recruiters will collect hundreds or thousands of resumes at a large career fair. If you are interested in applying for a specific position, go to the company Web site and apply directly using the company's preferred format. Open your cover letter by indicating that you discovered the position at theAsiaAlive! Career Fair and in speaking with recruiter Aurora Crawford, you became convinced that this was the position for you. You may also want to follow up with an email to the recruiter directly, if that information is on the business card.
In the future, if other positions are advertised for that company, use your inside connection with the recruiter. Apply using the company's preferred process and then send an email along with your resume to the recruiter you met at the career fair. That recruiter may or may not be working with the new position but could be provide the foot in the door that you need. Your email would say something like "Dear Ms. Crawford, I met you last March at the AsiaAlive! Recruiting Fair. At that time we discussed XYZ Company and the Training Specialist position. I see you now have a Country Specialist position available in the Tokyo office, and I wanted to contact you directly to express my interest. My resume and cover letter are attached. Of course, I have also applied through your company Web site."

Final Thoughts
Career Fairs don't have to be intimidating. Remember that the recruiters are there to find you. Recruiters' success is determined by sourcing appropriate candidates and funneling them toward the company. Remember that you are what they are looking for. Employing these success strategies is sure to make a difference in the kind, quantity and quality of your career-fair interactions.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

QuintZine regular contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz is the director of career services at Wentworth Institute of Technology, Boston. An independent career and HR consultant she has been working with career-seekers for 10 years. She has a master's degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University. A popular conference lecturer, she specializes in large and small specially designed workshops for professional organizations, students and environmental groups. Her most popular career workshops address topics including: Non-Verbal Techniques To Use During an Interview; Powerful Resumes; and Interviewing Etiquette You've Never Even Thought About. She has a particular interest in job-searching techniques for differently-abled candidates, new grads, and career changers.

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