Take Advantage of Job and Career Fairs

Technology has been a boon for finding employment, from the advent of job-search sites to the ability to e-mail your resume for immediate attention. But despite advancements, nothing beats person-to-person contact for making an impression. For this, job fairs are great for the recent college graduate. These events allow you a chance to make an impression, which can be especially important if you lack job experience. You'll also see firsthand that the real world isn't organized by college major. (That is, you don't have to be a nursing student to attend a hospital's job fair, or a finance major to attend a job fair at a bank, or an English major to attend a job fair in publishing.)

What's more, you can learn more about the companies that you might want to pursue for employment than you could by looking at web sites or at employment ads. By meeting a few people from a company at a job fair, you can gain at least a little insight into the culture of an organization, and you can ask questions.

What else will I learn by attending a job fair?

When you attend a career fair, you might learn about the day-to-day aspects of working in a certain occupation, the types of employers who hire students with your major, and a little about what it's like to work for certain companies. A job fair is a terrific opportunity to meet with hiring recruiters to learn what they seek in applicants. You'll be able to branch out and investigate positions, occupations, and career paths you may not have considered before.

Doing your job fair homework

To be effective at a job fair, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Know what companies and organizations are attending, or hosting, the fair. Most job fairs list their sponsors in their promotional material. Do a little bit of research about each company, such as checking out their Web sites to see what positions they currently have available.

  • Get to your A-list first. At a large job fair, you probably won't have time to speak with recruiters from every company in attendance, so make sure that the ones that drew you into the fair get your attention first.

  • Bring plenty of copies of your resume. Always take paper resumes to a job fair, even if you've submitted your resume in advance. If you're open to accepting employment in more than one field (for example, you want to work either in public relations or be the sports editor for a newspaper), take different versions of your resume, each tailored to achieve the different position. While you don't have to craft a personal resume for every single company, you don't ever want to give someone a resume that has nothing to do with the position they want to fill.

  • Prepare your introduction. Don't practice so much that you sound scripted or like a recording, but you should know in advance what you're going to say as you introduce yourself to the recruiters. From there, let the recruiters guide the conversation.

  • Know the dress code. Some job fairs are business casual, while others expect applicants to be in business suits. If you can't find the dress code listed in the job fair's advertising, contact the fair sponsor to ask. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and dress up rather than down.

A few other things to keep in mind

Just as person-to-person contact provides a rich opportunity for you to make an impression, if you act inappropriately you might find your resume going straight to the bottom of the pile. Watch your manners (stand up straight, make good eye contact, have a good handshake, don't fidget, speak clearly . . . you know the drill). Don't forget that it's a job fair, not a party. Just because the recruiter may be fresh out of the same college as you, remember this is a mini-interview, not a social function. Bring a pen and paper to take notes or fill out applications. And be courteous to fellow attendees, do not monopolize a recruiter's time. Instead, ask for business cards to follow up.

When it's over

Follow up on the leads you developed during the job fair with a thank you phone call or e-mail, or both. Consider sending a second resume with a cover letter, or call to suggest scheduling follow up conversations. Don't let your new contacts go to waste!