There’s always a lot of discussion among job seekers and employers whether attending a career fair is worth it. Job seekers wonder if they can find a job, while employers wonder if they will find the talent. Having attended hundreds of career fairs during the 20 years I’ve been in recruiting, I still believe that career fairs provide job seekers with the ability to find a job. On a number of occasions I’ve hired professionals after meeting them at a career fair. As a recruiting manager, I established a goal of hiring at least one person from every career fair in order to justify attending. I know that other recruiting departments have adopted the same goal. So companies are looking for you at career fairs. With hundreds of career fairs though, how do you figure out which one(s) to attend. Not all of them are worth your time.
Follwoing are some tips on how to determine whether a career fair is right for you.
- Some career fairs will specifically advertise the types of professionals who should attend. If you don’t see your profession listed, you’re better off spending your time targeting another method of getting a job.
- If there isn’t a mention of the types of professionals being targeted, call the company putting on the career fair to find out. Career fairs can take anywhere from a few hours to all day depending on how many employers are in attendance. The last thing you want to do is waste an entire day of your job search being unproductive.
- Look at the list of companies attending to get an idea if any of them are on your target list. If so, it’s your chance to get in front of a recruiter and drop your resume off. Be prepared because some companies may not accept your resume if your profession is outside what they are focusing on at the career fair. In this case have your elevator speech ready (see below.)
- Reviewing the list of companies will tell you the type of industry a career fair might be targeting. For example, there are career fairs focused on the service industry, food, high-tech, etc. Knowing if the companies attending are from an industry you’re not interested will allow you to focus your efforts elsewhere.
- Try and determine how many hires are made from the career fair. A lot of the companies that put on career fairs will track hires as part of their statistics. The greater the number of hires, the better chance you might be able to find a job. Don’t be fooled though if a career fair markets that 500 people attended the previous year and think that means it’s popular. It might be that 400 people should have done better research. The number of hires provides you with more information to decide if the career fair is worth your time.
If you’ve ever attended a career fair you know they can be a crazy time. Sometimes there might be a hundred or more companies attending. For the recruiters who are working the tables, you become a faceless, breathing, being. Sorry, but it’s true. Companies can collect hundreds of resumes, especially from some of the large national career fairs like Society of Women Engineers, Society of Black Engineers, etc.
If you do decide to attend, here are some ways to ensure that your time is being well spent and you make an impression on the recruiter so they will remember you later.
- Review the list of companies ahead of time and their open positions. If there is a specific position you want to apply to, print off the posting from the company’s website and hand it, along with a resume to a recruiter. Later, when the recruiters are sifting through the piles of resumes collected, they’ll be able to associate your resume to a particular position and perhaps your resume will rise to the top.
- Prepare a 30 second elevator pitch. Anymore than that and the recruiter won’t hear you. Keep in mind a recruiter is there to collect resumes. So they can’t spend ten minutes talking with every candidate. That is especially true if they work at one of the companies that everyone wants to speak with, i.e. Google. Do research into the types of positions a company hires AND the skills they are looking for. In thirty seconds cover the job title of a position you would be interested in, your skills, and if you have one major accomplishment that is directly related to the job or to what that company does. This is the type of pitch that normally got my attention and got someone a job.
- If the career fair is large where 50+ companies are attending, develop a strategy of how best to use your time. Make a list of the top ten companies you want to visit AND speak to. Just going to every booth and dropping off your resume isn’t productive. You want to speak to a recruiter. With the larger career fairs you won’t be able to speak to every recruiter, that’s why you need a list.
- Do your homework and know something about the company you’re going to speak with. I can’t tell you how many times I would ask someone what they knew about the company I was representing and I was amazed when someone would say ‘I don’t know much’. Here’s a hint, if you say that – you’re resume is going into file 13. Companies want to hire individuals who are interested in working for them and who have done their homework.
- Speak! So often job seekers would walk up to my booth and do everything thing could not to make eye contact with me. Here’s a hint. You’re at the career fair to get a job. It’s best to talk to people while you’re there.
Following are places to look for career fairs to attend.
- Military Career Fairs – if you’re a veteran, first, thank you for your service, second, there are numerous career fairs that cater to veterans. If you’re just getting out of the military check with your transition office for information they might have related to career fairs. Many companies will go on base to recruit. There are always local job fairs that are held specifically for veterans. Check with the local veteran’s office for a listing of career fairs. There are many larger career fairs held in various parts of the country that are specific to veterans as well. Consider traveling to one of these fairs. Following are some of the more popular career fairs that represent veterans:
2. National Conventions – There are a number of industries that hold national conventions each year. Many of the conventions will hold a career fair in conjunction with the convention. If they don’t have a career fair, the convention will have an area where vendors are allowed to have a booth. While not specifically marketed as a career fair, it’s another chance for you to get in front of a company representative.
3. Annual Professional Association Meetings – Some of the larger professional associations hold annual meetings. Most will also host a career fair for a couple of days during the annual meeting. If you’re a member of an association that holds an annual meeting, (and you should be a member), definitely attend the career fair.
4. Here’s a list of some of the larger career fairs held each year:
Virtual Career Fairs
Basically a virtual career fair is one that connects job seekers and employers on-line. Job seekers sign in to the hosted site and browse the companies who are participating. You’re able to upload your resume which becomes available to all the recruiters. So this is a plus over walk-in career fairs where you may not have the opportunity to visit every company. Then, in a virtual career fair there are chat rooms that allow you to communicate with the recruiters on-line. Be ready with your elevator pitch and just like the other career fairs do your homework ahead of time regarding what the company does and the types of professionals they look for.
Finally, one of the other advantages of attending a career fair is to add more people to your network. Try and collect business cards as you visit with recruiters or hiring managers and add them to your Job Search Spreadsheet. Be sure to follow-up with anyone who expressed interest in your background within a day of attending the career fair while the recruiters might still remember who you are.
So the next time you’re searching for a job don’t forget about attending a career fair. They’re still a useful tool in getting a job.