The Major Job Fair Error Nearly Every College Student Makes

They get in line.

If there is one reality of life that college provides excellent training for, it is standing in lines. Whether it's waiting in line at registration at the beginning of the year, waiting in line outside the bookstore for your textbooks, waiting in line for lunch, or just waiting in line outside your professor's office with the other three students who flunked the midterm, college is very good for developing the "there-is-a-line-let's-go-stand-in-it" mentality.

The Walkabout Technique

Instead of just getting into the first line you see, you should use the Walkabout Technique. There are two steps:

1. Walkabout the job fair.

When you first arrive at the job fair, walkabout the entire room to get a feel for the layout and where each employer is located. Most rooms are laid out in a maze format which requires walking through each of the corridors to see what is on the other side. Make note of those employers that are conducting secondary interviews either at their booth or in another location. If there is a separate area devoted to secondary interviews, ask one of the job fair workers which employers are conducting second interviews in that area. Survey the area as a military general would in planning an attack strategy. Know specifically whom you want to talk to and in what specific order. But be ready to change your plan if long lines suddenly appear in your planned corridor of attack.

2. Walkabout the employer.

Instead of just getting in line, approach the company booth from the side and quietly pick up some of the slick glossies that are prominently displayed on the table. Then take a few steps back. The reason for this is twofold: first, you now have in your hands some extremely valuable pre-interview reading material; second, and most important, you have an opportunity to get a free preview of the employer and recruiter. How? By staying put 4 to 6 feet away and listening. You will be far enough away to be unobtrusive, yet still within earshot of the conversation taking place. Listen to what the recruiter asks. Be prepared to answer the same questions yourself. Listen to the responses. Did the recruiter respond positively or negatively? Listen to two or three different interviews to compare different responses. If there is more than one recruiter for the employer, note the different styles of each and choose the line in front of the one who is the closest fit to your own personality range.

If you have done your homework properly, you should be able to determine what the employer's needs are and what they are specifically looking for in filling those needs. Ask yourself two questions: (1) "Is this something I'm interested in?" and (2) "Am I able to show that I am qualified for the position(s) they are offering?" If your answer to either question is "No," then don't waste your time by standing in line. Very few sights in life are sadder than the look on the face of the engineering student who spends over an hour in line to meet with Intel, only to find out that Intelis only hiring sales reps.

If you have an interest in what the employer has to offer and you can meet its basic needs, it is time for you to get in line. This is the time to really soak up the information in the employer materials you have already picked up from the table. You can also do some quick employer research on your phone. Remember, most people do not review this information until after they have met with the company, so you have a great advantage at the start. And you are not forced to stare blindly off into space as do 90+ percent of job seekers while standing in line. You will be, on the other hand, mentally alert and focused on what is important to the employer and its recruiters, and what your role can be in furthering the employer's goals. In short, you will be ready above and beyond all of your competition.

Congrats—you have just taken a simple step that will put you a giant step ahead of your peers. Why? Because you have already learned "from the inside" what they are looking for and have pre-read their company propaganda. You are fully prepared while your competition is wandering aimlessly about. When your turn arrives, step up with confidence, introduce yourself, and state succinctly your specific career mission statement and how it fits in with their needs as an employer. You will truly stand apart from the crowd.

If you have never done the Walkabout Technique before, it can seem rather intimidating at first. After all, you are doing something that no one else is doing. Although you usually do not have to ask permission to pick up the employer materials that are displayed, occasionally recruiters will tell you that the information is only for candidates they have already met with (translated: those they have determined they have an interest in). Simply respond, "I'm planning to wait in line and would like to learn more about your company during the wait." Dare they refuse?

The Walkabout Technique might feel uncomfortable at first because our "natural" (or is it unnatural?) tendency is to get in the line, not to go immediately to the front of the line and then stand off to the side near the front. Maybe we are afraid that we will be perceived as attempting to cut in line, ready to dart to the front when no one else is looking. Well, as your Mom and Dad told you, don't worry about what other people think. Worry about what the employer recruiters think. They are the only ones you are there to impress. And the Walkabout Technique is just one more way to improve your odds of impressing them. You not only have all the employer materials in advance, you also know what questions will be asked. You will be fully prepared, instead of groping in the dark.