Job fairs are becoming a more common method of entry level recruiting and screening. For the corporate recruiter, they offer an opportunity to reach interviewing terminal velocity—meeting the highest possible number of potential prospects in the shortest possible amount of time. For many students, job fairs provide a "freebie" opportunity to meet with multiple employers in the same day.
However, unless you do your homework, you will end up wasting your time at a job fair. Job fairs are the meat markets of the entry level job market, with employers sizing up candidates quickly, based on appearances, communication skills, and first impressions. Job fairs have a set of rules and protocols all their own. But if you understand how to effectively work within the system, you can easily double or triple your productivity and effectiveness.
Often many of the attendees at job fairs are "window shoppers" who are just browsing to see what might be available. While this approach may seem valid, take note that job fairs are not a "get-acquainted session" for you to meet prospective employers. They are first interviews where unprepared candidates are stepped on and over by those who are targeted and prepared. Yes, even the two- to three-minute greeting and exchange of sound bites is a real interview. You are being evaluated, whether it is for thirty seconds or thirty minutes. You always need to be at your very best. If you are to succeed at the job fair of the new millennium, you have to take a very aggressive, yet structured approach.
Understanding what type of job fair you are attending is crucial to your planning, since each type has distinct differences in approach, setup, and general level of success for entry level candidates.
The campus-sponsored job fair is by far the most popular for college students. For many, this is the job fair. Larger campuses will often have several different job fairs, each one geared toward a specific discipline. They are usually sponsored by the Career Center on campus, although some may be sponsored by a particular academic department, club, or group. The campus-sponsored job fair is ideal for most college students since it is convenient, the lines are generally shorter than at commercial job fairs, and employers are predisposed to and familiar with your college. Many employers attend the job fair in advance of their on campus recruiting activities, while some use this as their only campus visit. Often the more astute employers will bring along a recent grad, possibly even from your school, to talk with prospective grads. Another trend in recent years has been for smaller colleges to combine together to create consortium job fairs.
As a sideline to the campus job fairs, many campuses now have an event they call "Career Day" early in the fall semester, and a "Job Fair" late in the fall semester or in the spring semester. The big difference is that many employers who come for Career Day are not actively hiring at that time. They often come for the exposure to students ahead of on-campus interviews or the later job fair. It serves as more of an information-sharing activity than a recruiting activity. In short, it's a good time to meet employers in advance and gather up all their slick glossies on what they think makes them the best employer in the world. But remember, actively hiring or not, it is still an interview and you still are being evaluated.
These general professional job fairs are geared to a wide range of professional occupations, from accounting to programming to engineering to sales. Be aware that you are running with a new herd at this one. You have to be prepared to compete directly with those who have practical work experience in the field. Get ready to hear a lot of no's, but the occasional employer that does have a need at the entry level could make it worthwhile. Your main objective should be to gather information for later direct follow-up with the employers. Do not expect anyone to call you back based on simply dropping off your resume.
These professional job fairs are geared toward a specific group, such as "IT Job Fair" or "Technical/Engineering Job Fair." If you are in one of the specialty groups, this is an excellent resource for finding hiring employers. Again, you are competing against literally hundreds of better qualified candidates, so your purpose should be to gather information about hiring employers for later direct contact.
These are free-for-all job fairs offering everything from Swing Shift Manager at McDonald's to professional and management positions. There are often over one hundred employers involved. If you choose to attend, make sure you are very targeted and very direct about the type of jobs and type of employers you are seeking. Identify the employers you want to work for and target their booth locations before entering the crowd of people.
If there is a job fair you would like to attend but are unable to do so, there is still a way to get noticed. Send your resume to the sponsoring organization twice, at least a week apart. The first one should arrive at least a week before the job fair and the second just after the date of the job fair. The reason? They will be accumulating resumes from those unable to attend. Then after the job fair, the resumes will be distributed to attending employers. When the employer representative scans through the two hundred to five hundred resumes, yours may be both at the beginning and at the end. And when it is seen the second time, the light will go on. "I know I have seen that person's resume before." You will get a long second look, which may be enough to make an impact.
If you request permission, many colleges are willing to allow attendees from outside their college. For safety's sake, it is always best to check with the sponsoring organization, which is usually the Career Center for the college. If you are from a different geographical region and seeking to relocate to that particular area, most colleges are willing to accommodate your special request to attend. So if there is a job fair at another college, make sure you put it on your schedule. Don't limit yourself to your college alone—take advantage of all available resources.
For more information on how to take advantage of all the resources available through other colleges, see the Other Alma Mater Technique.