While attending career fairs should only be one part of your job search, they can be a valuable step if you make a plan and assert yourself appropriately. To gain more insight on how to navigate these events, I consulted with the people on the other side of the table. Debbie Gsellmeier is Director of Human Resources at Idex Optics & Photonics and Caitlin Annunziata is a Senior Recruiter at Mullen and they have some good advice on how to prepare, how to stand out and, of course, what not to wear.
SB: How do hiring managers/recruiters approach a career fair?
CA: It’s a great opportunity to network with people who you may not find on a job board or elsewhere. It gives you an opportunity to actually meet people in person and chat with them about what they are looking for in their next role.
DG: We like to get our name out at a job fair, and see what our competition is doing in terms of recruiting. We want to know what jobs our competitors are hiring for, and do a comparison of benefits, recruiting tactics, etc.
SB: What are they looking for?
CA: Most of the time we don’t attend a career fair thinking we will make an offer on the spot, rather it’s a great opportunity to talk about our company and meet new people.
SB: How should a candidate prepare for this type of event?
CA: Its good to read up about any of the companies attending the career fair, to look at their job boards and see if they have anything currently posted that is of interest.
DG: The most important preparation a candidate can do before attending a Career Fair, would be researching the organizations that will be in attendance, and carefully targeting companies that have jobs for which the candidate would be qualified. Candidates who stop by every booth and leave a resume don’t come across as serious candidates in the job market.
SB: What goals should they have for themselves?
CA: Get as many relevant business cards as possible. You should make an effort to follow-up with those people afterward to reiterate your interest in their company.
SB: What helps a candidate to stand out among so many others?
CA: Someone who is professional, who did their research, who took the time to find out what my company does and if we have any current openings that match their skill sets, etc.
DG: We want to see candidates who have a smile, make eye contact and introduce themselves with a handshake. (See here for more thoughts on being present in an introduction.) Most importantly, they should have a resume and contact information readily available.
SB: Anything that’s a real turn-off?
CA: Someone who is clearly unprepared, who doesn’t appear to take his or her search seriously (i.e. When asked what kind of job they are looking for, they reply “anything”? Really? You don’t care what you do?)
DG: On occasion we will see candidates with jeans and a t-shirt. HR representatives are professionally dressed to represent their company, and we would expect potential employees to dress as though they are interviewing for a job. In addition, eye contact along with an introduction goes a long way. Candidates may only have a few minutes to make an impression and that can go a long way when we look through a stack of resumes.
It’s true; the chance to make a personal connection is one of the most valuable opportunities these events can provide and that encounter might do more for you than a faceless online submission. You can find more thoughts on networking and keeping up with contacts here. Check out what career fairs are coming up near you: http://womenforhire.com/online-career-fairs/ , http://choicecareerfairs.com/ . With the rise of virtual career fairs, you might not even have to leave your home!