How to work a career fair

Check out my first blog for Monster.com Career Start. Are you an entry-level professional considering using career fairs for networking? Get my best advice here:

8 Secrets for Working a Job Fair

Use these expert tips from start to finish to land an internship or entry-level job

entry level resume

Career fair season is here and this is going to be one of the few times in your life when companies come chasing after you, so don’t screw it up. Organize yourself properly, take the right attitude and vow to work the whole show because job fairs make for a great entry-level job search opportunity.

First Jobs and Internships

While job fairs are mainly focused on helping the graduating class get their first jobs, you can start going as a freshman and use these same employers as sources for internships. When it comes to the real world of professional work, having internships under your belt gives you a major competitive edge. As we say today, “The internship is the new first job.”

Dress for Professional Success

Remember, you are trying to get hired, not dated, so you need to dress to impress the employers, not your classmates and favorite hotties. You may be meeting your new boss and you don’t want the first impression to be anything less than professional.

You Must Have a Resume

Not only must you have a professional-looking resume that talks about your suitability for a target job (which takes time), you should take as many copies of your resume as there are exhibitors — times two. You’ll need one to leave at each booth and an additional copy for anyone you speak to.

Network the Career Fair

Organize a collaborative marketing effort with friends who are attending. They may be pursuing entirely different jobs and different professions, but if you all make the effort to text each other with alerts for opportunities, everyone wins. You can say to a representative, for example: “It’s been a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. Jones. I’m going to text my friend Colleen Rice, who would be perfect for that accounting job.” The company sees you networking, while you find an opportunity for a friend and build expectations, which helps your friends open the conversation when they arrive at the booth in person.

On leaving each booth with a job that is appropriate for you, make notes for follow-up while everything is fresh in your mind.

Looking down the road a few years, one of the best networking contacts you can have are people who graduated from the same school as you. So if you are attending solo, introduce yourself to other attendees and start building a professional network that you can use to promote your career for the rest of your adult life. With this in mind, collect business cards and/or social network addresses from everyone you meet.

There’s More to Life Than Google

It’s easy to walk into a job fair and be drawn like a moth to the biggest and most attractive booths — sponsored by the largest and most established companies — and ignore the lesser ones. But you should know that companies with less than 500 employees and in their first 10 years of existence generate the majority of the jobs in America. So visit every booth, not just the ones with the flashing lights and all the moths fluttering around.

Test Drive a New Professional You

You can approach and talk to absolutely anyone at a job fair — no one will blow you off. Other soon-to-be grads are as nervous as you are and the company people are being paid to talk to you. Talk to someone at every booth; ask questions about company products and direction, plus titles they are looking for, before you talk about yourself. You can’t know how to sell yourself if you don’t know what the customer wants to buy.

Arrange times and dates to follow up with as many employers as possible: “Ms. Jones, I realize you are very busy today, but I would like to speak to you further. Your company sounds exactly suited to my education and interests. Can I call you next week?”

Speakers Love Flattery

There will usually be formal group presentations made by employers. As all speakers love feedback, move in when the crush of presenter groupies has died down. You will have more knowledge of the company from the speaker’s exchanges with people in front of you and time to customize your pitch to the needs and interests of the employer. Besides, you’ll get more time and closer attention. Open with a compliment about the person’s platform skills: “You are such a good speaker! [Wait for a smile.] Can I ask you a question about …?” After that, you can usually continue to ask all the questions you want.

Follow-Up

At the end of the day, go through your notes while everything is still fresh in your mind. Review each company and what possibilities it may hold for you. Also review what you have learned about industry trends, skill requirements, marketplace shifts and long-term staffing needs. Then visit company websites, upload your resume and send emails and make follow-up calls to everyone with whom you spoke.

For more advice for entry-level professionals, please check out Knock Em Dead Secrets & Strategies for First-Time Job Seekers, available here and from your favorite booksellers.

Latest posts by Martin Yate CPC (see all)