"Here. Take my résumé," demanded a desperate job hunter at a recent job fair, as he thrust his document over the shoulder of someone standing between him and the human resources staffer at her company's table. Not surprisingly, the staffer took it, tossed it on to a pile of résumés, and remained focused solely on the person directly in front of her.
Another job hunter was seen trolling the room, scooping into a large bag all the goody giveaways he could find on the employers' tables: pens, candy, water bottles, etc. He left behind all of the literature describing the companies and their open positions. Assuming he wouldn't be remembered, he made another pass around the room, trying to get the recruiters and hiring managers who were on hand to pay attention to him. He had already branded himself a taker instead of a networker, and no one gave him the time of day.
Sadly, these are depictions of job hunter activity at recent events recently observed in the greater Boston area. Job fairs are great networking events. However, for them to be effective, remember these key points:
1. Figure out what kind of job fair is the right one for you. Whatever you think about Gertrude Stein's famous assertion, "Rose is a rose is a rose," there are real differences among job fairs.
Some fairs are open house style functions hosted by a single company with many jobs to fill. Others are organized and run by companies whose business it is to gather a variety of employers with jobs to fill together. Some are aimed at recent college grads or entry-level professional type positions, while others are geared to more seasoned individuals. Industry groups or alumni associations conduct still other events, each with their own specific type of job seeker as their target audience.
2. Provide your résumé when you register online. Often, those conducting the job fair try to collect résumés during registration. Typically, they will then make the résumés they amass available to the employers at the fair. This way, even if you don't get to speak with someone at the event, an employer can contact you if you're a strong potential fit for a role they're seeking to fill.
3. Research employers that will be present. When you register for a job fair, it is important to understand what companies, nonprofits and governmental entities will be present. Check out their websites, and research them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Glassdoor.com and similar websites to stand out from the rest of the crowd. You should be able to begin a conversation with something along the lines of, "I understand that your company is…"
4. Know your target jobs at each company. When you're researching companies, be sure to investigate what jobs they have open that match your credentials. Figure out which ones are realistic, and key in on those companies when you first enter the job fair. Even if the people present who are representing the company aren't recruiting for those specific roles, taking a few minutes to show them you've done your homework could ensure they take your résumé back with them and get it into the right hands.
5. Bring plenty of résumés and business cards. You never want to get caught short of résumés or business cards. While you are walking around the room, you just might meet another job hunter that can become a valuable part of your network. There might be more than one company representative at any given table, and so on. Wherever possible, the goal should be to get a card for every one that you give away so that you can follow up after the event with a short email.
6. Keep the employer's needs in mind. Be aware of what is going on in the room around you. Employers attend to meet lots of people, and not to be monopolized by just a few. You'll be appreciated if you keep your conversation focused and brief when there are several others waiting to speak with a given company representative. Remember, unless there are few people around, job fairs are typically not for long conversations or full-scale interviews. Treat them as opportunities to introduce yourself and to begin a discussion that can be continued later.
Job fairs present a great opportunity to actually have the personal contact with employers that you lack when submitting your résumé online. These can be great networking events when you take the time to fully prepare and engage in targeted purposeful conversations.
Arnie Fertig is the head coach of JOBHUNTERCOACH.COM, where he utilizes his extensive background in HR Staffing and as owner of a recruiting company to help mid-career job-hunters land their next job. Arnie provides one-to-one coaching services to individuals throughout the U.S. in all aspects of the job hunt, including: resume writing, personal branding, utilizing social media, enhancing networking skills, preparing for interviews, and negotiating compensation.