Surviving and Thriving at Career Fairs

networking-and-business-etiquette-workshopSummertime is career fair time in the world of recruiting and on Thursday, May 28th David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN will be hosting a Career Expo that is being organized by my friend Matt Lowney (for more information click here).

To help you get prepared for this career event (if you live in Nashville) or others in your area, here are eleven quick things (in no particular order) you can do to survive and thrive at career fairs –

1) Have realistic expectations (i.e. you will not get hired on the spot).Most job-seekers go to career fairs with the expectation of walking away from the event with a job. In reality, the chances of you actually finding a job at a job/career fair are very slim (if you land something there you should probably play the lottery right afterwards) so most go away disappointed. Additionally, you can expect long lines, employers that are frazzled, don’t want to be there, and aren’t hiring.

2) If you’re not going to find a job, know why you should go. Networking is the key to finding a new opportunity and career fairs offer job-seekers one of their best chances to network with employers, recruiters and other job-seekers (others in career transition can be some of your best networking contacts).

3) Take advantage of the other services offered at the career fair. Many career fairs offer more than just employers at booths – they offer educational classes, résumé reviews, and opportunities to speak with career coaches. In many cases you can tell the motivation of the organizer of the event. If all they offer are employers they are probably more worried about making money but if they offer other services (like the ones mentioned above) they probably have the career seekers best interest at heart.

4) Never (and I mean EVER) ask the company you are speaking too, “So, what do you guys do?” In most cases that question is the kiss of death and you WILL be tuned out shortly there after. You should treat a career fair like you would an interview and do research on the companies that are participating. If there is not a list beforehand (there is probably a reason there is no list if one is not made available) then pay attention to the interaction between the person in front of you and the employer to figure out who they are and what they do.

5) Know what you want to do and what value you bring to the table. If you cannot articulate what it is you want to do and why someone should be interested in you there are 100 people right behind you at the career fair that will be able to. Understand where you fit and why you are a great candidate BEFORE you get there, not when you are standing in line.

6) Start with the companies that matter least. I know this sounds a little bit backwards but you will probably be a little nervous when you get there so it is better to start with an organization you see as ‘less important’ and mess up there than with the company you really want to see.

7) Just because a company does not have a current opening or is not on your target list you STILL need to speak with them. See number two above – you never know who they know or what information they might have. 

8.) Dress and act appropriately.This is self explanatory but needs to be said time and time (and time) again. You never know who you are going to run into when you attend a career event so act and present yourself as a professional to both the career seekers and the employers.

9) Bring the appropriate marketing materials. This is another one that is self explanatory but do not leave the house without business cards, résumés, and an effective elevator speech that describes who you are, what you do, and what your value is.

10) Bring breath mints. I know this seems pretty odd to put breath mints in this list but you will have the potential to interact with a lot of people at a career event and you do not want to develop dragon breath. My personal favorites are Breath Savors – they are sugar free, taste great, don’t rattle in your pocket, and are inexpensive.

11) Get a business card and follow-up. Although you will probably not have much success the day of the career event it doesn’t mean you can’t have success a few days afterwards. Get a business card or contact information from everyone you meet and reach out to them a few days afterwards, thank them for their time, and ask for a short 10-15 minute networking meeting.

So remember – if you go to a career fair with the right expectations and point of view, bring the right materials, and know what you want to do and what value you bring to the table it can be a worthwhile event to meet new people, ler

If you do make it to the event on Thursday at Lipscomb I hope you join me for a discussion on résumés I will be leading.

Until then, good hunting and good luck!


9 responses to “Surviving and Thriving at Career Fairs

  1. Thanks for the tips! See you at the job fair.

  2. Nice essay. I am not sure who contributed it…perhaps Matt LeBlanc, who is definitely an expert…here’s my twist on Job Fairs.

    I have attended several in recent years, both in this job search and the previous one, after 9/11. I have tended to follow the below pattern:

    – I definitely review the list of companies signed up to be represented.
    – I Star the ones that I know I will be interested in.
    – I Bring a few copies of my résumé. I don’t want to pass it wholesale, and most want it digitally, but I do want some paper copies.
    – Bring adequate business cards for both the companies and other attendees I might perhaps have time to visit with (actually, I am typically so busy talking to company reps, I don’t usually spend a lot of time with other candidates at job fairs).
    – If I don’t know what a particular company does, or what positions they are hiring for, I ask. I spend 60 – 80 hrs per week doing my job search routine…. I can’t possibly add to my schedule all the things recommended to be done in a complete job search. If a company does not want to share with me what they do, or what positions they are trying to fill, then I move on….they are obviously not interested in me and I doubt I will be able to convince them. They have some burden to bear in this effort.
    – I visually survey the exhibition hall when I enter and try to develop a logical plan to hit the booths that I have starred….if I pass by an open booth for an interesting looking company, and it is open (adequately manned) then I may stop in prior to completing my goals…( it is not unusual for the booths to be inadequately manned, especially for the companies that mill a lot of applicants – collections, call centers, etc.)
    – I don’t pay a lot of attention to the food or the hype (door prizes, etc. I bring a candy bar so I can work thru lunch if that is what it takes)… I try to remember why I am there, … to visit with company reps … and pick their brains on openings in their company.
    – If I complete my formal agenda, and don’t see anything else that is appealing, I don’t feel guilty for leaving….I surely have other things to do that will be a positive step forward in my job search.
    – I definitely put all the information I do gather into my database, at the very least creating contact cards for the folks I met….
    – And while the résumé writing clinic is a good thing to attend, I would not spend this time doing that… I would try to focus on the opportunities to meet active employers… is precious time that is difficult to arrange otherwise….the résumé writing clinics will probably be offered at other times as well.
    – I always try to convey gratitude to the host… this case, David Lipscomb University…..they will have some reps there, I am sure.

    Well, we all have different perspectives, but the same goals……obtain adequate, satisfying employment….Best Wishes!


  3. Great thoughts and insight into the world of job/career fairs. The career fair is a networking experience that allows you to make contacts, exchange information , and meet other job searchers.(certainly along with companies at the fair) You can meet some great people who are also job hunting at career fairs who may turn out to be wonderful contacts that could lead you to your next position. We all understand the ‘urgency’ during the search for a full time position but do not lose track of the people you come in contact with during your search.

  4. I think the keyword mentioned above is to set your expectations appropriately for a career/job fair. You need to be adaptable so if the job fair turns into a bust then start the networking and finding out what others are looking for. The last job fair I attended was run by HR pros and most were not interested in discussing any particular jobs or taking resumes. It was mostly letting you know to apply for the list of jobs open online and check back in two weeks. Most did not give out their personal business cards, rather they handed out a card that had the company’s career website. I did meet several good networks in the jobseeker group.

  5. gave me an email recently saying:
    1) research the company before the event so you can discuss their needs more intelligently, like their new expansion etc.
    2) send snail mail hand written or separately typed Thank You notes to everyone you spoke with.
    I like your addition of asking for a networking lunch meeting as a follow up,in the Thank You note to stay in sight, in mind, hoping a need will arise for you over the interim.

  6. Thanks for the interesting list. Most of this “should be” intuitive to people attending job fairs, but nonetheless a good list.

    Here in Rochester, NY with a small pool of employers, I also make it a point at job fairs to revisit my older employers just to say “hi” and still do some research on the company such as “I see you’ve entered a new market segment….” just to keep my name/face fresh if there is a possibility of re-hiring.

    Job fairs are also a great place for “2nd-level” networking and who-knows-who.

    In marketing terms, a job fair may be a way for a company that is NOT actively hiring just to have some “brand awareness” in the community or may be at the job fair just for good “community politics”…..

    Set your expectations accordingly.

    • Thanks for reading!! I agree, most of the information ‘should be’ intuitive for most folks, but unfortunatly I have seen too many sharp folks make the same mistakes at career fairs over and over.

  7. While I feel job fairs are valuable, my biggest complaint is that the employers send just their HR people. Oftentimes, they’ll only tell you about current openings that they know about. As you may know, HR is usually the last to know about an opening within the company. I wish more employers would send department managers to job fairs so you can actually network with those who have the power to hire you. One tip would be to ask the HR rep who you can contact within the department you are interested in, and then follow up with that person later.

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