The Job Search: Navigating a Job Fair

Contributed by Alan Rohlfing
 
(This is one of a series of posts relating to the job search. Check back weekly for observations on a variety of employment assistance topics.)
Career fairs, hiring events, job fairs, career expos…whatever you might call them, if you’ve looked for a job anytime recently, you’ve probably been to one. And love ‘em or hate ‘em, many of us consider them a necessary evil, one of those aspects of the search for employment that would be hard to replace.
Job fairs come in all shapes and sizes, from the “one employer at the local career center” variety to the 150-employer extravaganza that was advertised at the regional or national level. Since many of you will find yourself at that registration table sooner or later, we’ve put together a list of things to be sure and do and things to avoid at YOUR next hiring event.
Do your homework. Pre-register for the event and try to get a listing of those companies attending in advance. If you have the opportunity, do a little detective work…research them & get a feel for their open positions. You’ll be able to talk intelligently about the company with the recruiter and you’ll give a great first impression. And don’t rule out companies just because they’re recruiting for positions outside your career field. Remember, this is a networking event. And while you’re at it, network with fellow job seekers & other professionals in the vicinity. Remember, many times it’s who you know…
Dress professionally. For more information on that topic, see last Friday’s post on Dressing for Success. I’ll place an emphasis on comfortable shoes, and call them a necessity for a day like this.
Accessorize with a portfolio. Have a clean pad of paper with a list of questions. Take good notes for follow-up after the fair…but remove the page from the top of the tablet when you’ve completed the interview with each recruiter. Yes, the interview. Think of a job fair as a series of mini-interviews…lots of chances to make great first impressions.
Bring business cards. A professionally designed card, tailored to introduce you as a job seeker, is a must! Resumes are your second choice…ask the recruiter which they prefer. Bring different versions of your resumes if you’re searching for different types of jobs, and have them tucked in a separate folder inside your portfolio.
Minimize your chances of bad breath. Watch what you eat. This is especially true for those fairs in the afternoons, where it’s just too easy to have onions or garlic on what you eat for lunch. Be careful not to drink coffee or smoke right before the event, and you may want to use a strong mint right before entering the fair.
When you first arrive…smiling is required. A recent study indicated that smiling faces were easier to remember. Start with the gatekeepers and others in the queue waiting to enter the event. Obtain a floor plan of the event and locate your targeted employers. Walk the room first, if needed, to relax and get the feel of how the recruiters are working their stations.
Put the phone away. Unless you’re bumping phones to trade contact information with the recruiter, or showing an employer how well you create mobile-friendly apps, just put it away. Enough said.
Listen. Process what questions are being asked of the recruiter by other candidates while you stand in line, waiting. Try not to ask the same question others have asked…especially if the recruiter knows that you were within earshot and should have been paying attention. Listen to what the recruiters are asking the other candidates, for these same questions may be asked of you.
Meeting the recruiter. Don’t just walk up to a table and interrupt the current conversation; wait your turn and be polite. Some employers will have long lines, which will deter (and discourage) some jobseekers. The amount of time you will have with the recruiter can vary from mere seconds to minutes. Take notes if possible and offer your business card or resume.
Sell yourself. Prepare (and rehearse) your one-minute elevator pitch, highlighting your unique value proposition…what you can offer the employer. Be prepared to talk about your military history and work experiences, as well as your skills and abilities. Questions not to ask: Are you hiring? What kind of jobs do you have? What does it pay? All those indicate you haven’t done a lick of research about the company’s opportunities for employment.
Before you leave each table/recruiter/mini-interview, take the initiative and ask, “What’s the next step?” Don’t be offended if the recruiter tells you that they don’t need your resume and you’ll have to apply online for their open positions. If you have time, ask if there are any suggested tips for completing their online job application. Request the recruiter’s business card for future correspondence, shake hands, and thank them for their time. Move away and finalize your notes.
Follow up. Email each recruiter (with whom you had a meaningful conversation) a note about 2-3 days after the event, thanking them for their time and recapping your conversation (this is why your notes are so important). Attach a PDF version of your resume, so they’ll have it digitally.
Finally, here are some recruiters’ pet peeves: Too much cologne or perfume. Weak or sloppy handshake. Too many filler words (“like’, “you know”). Walking from booth to booth, picking up swag. Even worse – walking up to a recruiter with a bag full of stuff and then fumbling for your resume/business card, which happens to be stuck to the free pen you picked up from another recruiter.
One last note about career fairs…keep in mind that these events aren’t all about YOU and open jobs…these events are about networking with companies that you’d like to work for. If you get a referral for a job, consider it your lucky day. It means that you did everything right to warrant that recommendation…
 
Do you have any tidbits or success stories from your experiences at career fairs? Anything that might benefit others in the military community, facing the same challenges? If so, tell us your story and email Kris@militaryconnection.com!