Unless it is a small or limited job fair, you will want to plan to spend most of your day there. You should always spend time in advance researching the employers that will be attending, not only to decide which you have an interest in, but also so that you are fully prepared for those with which you meet. The very best time to attend is early in the morning and then again later in the day. Try to avoid the midday crush. Even at some of the commercial job fairs (which are notorious for long, long lines), by arriving early you can usually beat the lines and meet with the most popular employers first. During the prime time midday crush, you can usually expect long lines and lack of quality time with the recruiters. To estimate how long your wait will be, simply sample the average amount of time the recruiter is taking with each person, extrapolate over the number in line and you have your answer. At a recent job fair, the recruiter was taking five minutes with each candidate and there were twenty people in line. How's your math? That's over an hour and a half waiting in line for a five minute meeting.
A good strategy to follow is to meet with the most popular employers early in the day, before the lines develop, and then talk with the "second-tier" employers during the later part of the day. Then before you leave, make one more contact with the employers in which you have an ongoing interest. With proper planning and strategic timing, you can usually avoid the long lines and make your time more productive.
Think of it as a day at Disney World. Arrive early and hit the most popular rides first. If you can't see it all, make sure you at least see and experience all of the best highlights.
First priority in job fair lines is always to read the employer materials. But what then? Time to stare off into space? No. Long lines hold yet another opportunity for you to take advantage of in your job search. More networking.
Simply turn to those in front or in back of you and ask them the standard job fair question asked by most Recruiters: "What are you looking for here today?" Ask them about other employers they may have spoken with at the job fair—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Avoid the bad and the ugly. And ask them about their job search in general. "Any particularly promising employers?"
Remember that we all like to talk about ourselves. Now is not the time for you to spout on excessively about your success (or lack thereof) on your most recent job search excursion. You are there to listen and gather information. You will learn infinitely more by listening to others than by listening to yourself.
Take copious mental notes. And remember that your network has just grown in size by one.
Bring them lunch. Or even a soda. Or even just a bottle of water. Most recruiters have very little time to get away from their booth. There is a line a mile long and it is not getting any shorter. If you notice that they are in need of something, you can either ask them if they want you to get it or just get it for them. They will be eternally grateful, and it may be what sets you apart from the crowd at the end of the day.
You can only use this technique once during the day (or twice if you have a large gastric capacity), but it is a very effective way to bypass what might otherwise be an hour wait. Ask the recruiter to lunch—your treat. Sitting with you, listening to your background, is all that you ask in return. Many will appreciate the opportunity to get away, even if it is just for thirty minutes. Set up reservations for lunch at a nearby (or, better yet, on-site) sit-down restaurant. Then approach the recruiter from the side of the booth and mention that you have a table for two reserved for lunch. If you are turned down, try it with other recruiters you are interested in until it does work. Usually you will have at least a 25 percent hit rate, so you usually will not have to ask more than three or four different recruiters before you get an acceptance. Then use that time productively by talking rather than eating. You will put the recruiter in a different environment than he or she is experiencing with the rest of the herd and will gain a high probability of remembrance based on your willingness to meet their needs first. Try it!