Making Career Fairs Work For You

Ah, yes. It’s summertime and that means career fair season is upon us for 2011.

Career fairs are one of those unique opportunities where you get to pull back the curtain, look a potential employer in the eye, and realize that there are 150 people right behind you waiting to do the same thing.

Are they worth going to? ABSOLUTELY!! Are you going to get hired just because you showed up? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!

In Nashville area the premier career fair is held each summer at David Lipscomb University and generally attracts ~50 employers, ~2,000 job-seekers, and offers some great networking and classes led by industry folks on everything from résumés to interviewing to social media.

To help prepare you for career events in Nashville (and everywhere else), here are a handful of quick things (in no particular order) you can do to survive and thrive at career fairs –

1) Know what to expect. You can look forward to long lines, employers that are frazzled, don’t want to be there, and aren’t hiring.

2) Know what WON’T happen. You won’t get hired. 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.

3) 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).

4) 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.

5) Bring the right things with you. This is another one that is self-explanatory but do not leave the house without business cards, résumés, an effective elevator speech that describes who you are, what you do, and what your value is, and PLEASE do show up without breath mints. You do not want to be remembered for your dragon breath.

6) 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.

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. Again, you never know who they know or what information they might have.

8) 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.

9) 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. If you find that someone does not have a business card, write down their name and connect with them via LinkedIn afterwards.

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, and learn about new companies and opportunities..

Until then, good hunting and good luck!


2 responses to “Making Career Fairs Work For You

  1. Matt,

    This is a “right on” analysis of Career fairs. I have been on both sides of the table and agree with your assessment.

  2. I work dozens of Career Fairs each year and I’m amazed at the job seekers who show up unprepared…its sad, but its partly why they are unemployed. Have your elevator speech ready and make a good/quick impression at each table: then move on! Pet peeves: Bad breath (if you don’t know you have it – you might have bigger probs!) Brush, floss, gargle, scrape and then chew mints between booths – do WHATEVER it takes to not have pooh-breath! Clammy/sweaty hands: easy fix – simply keep a couple tissues in your pocket and “grip” them just before you shake hands to clear your paws of that terror-revealing moisture! Ego-freaks who dominate a table for 5 minutes while there are obviously other people waiting – if you can’t make a good impression in less than a minute with me it aint gonna happen after you’ve forced me to listen to your account of how your last boss trusted you enough to have you house sit his prize winning peekanese.

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