The first job fair I ever went to was awful. It was embarrassing (someone literally looked down my shirt and told me to ‘keep that coming!’… creepy.), it was awkward, and at the end of the day, I was depressed because of my lack of networking prowess. But to be honest, I didn’t take it very seriously, and it was a school event which meant that 40 of my classmates were in attendance–it was far more tempting to talk to them than to schmooze with the unknowns.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a recruiting fair for work in Australia (because if you didn’t know, I’m moving there!), and decided to put aside my humility and be the shining star I knew I could be with potential employers. It may not have paid off as much as I’d wanted (I had high expectations), but I walked away feeling accomplished and like I took the reins. And honestly, that’s all I can ask.
The thing about job fairs, especially recruiting fairs, is that you’re not just a resume in a pile. You’ve got a chance to make an interview-worthy impression without having to get the call-back first. Even better, your interest in the company and your attitude can make up for any holes in your resume that might cause you to be overlooked had you just applied online. So in light of my most recent experience, here are my top 3 career fair tips for success for the next time you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, afraid, or just generally clueless when it comes to booth-hopping 101.
- Bring an up-to-date-resume- I’m not just talking about your standard, plain-text resume. Remember that there may be hundreds of other very personable candidates in attendance. Find something that can be your distinguishing factor with your resume (for me, it’s accent colours of red for titles and section separators), something that’s not too over-the-top or overdone. That way, when the recruiter asks for your CV, it’s memorable and they’ll look at it later and think “ah, I remember this red CV! That was Erica Wodzak, she was a very friendly and intelligent lady”. A+ for standing out.
- Go alone- when you attend career fairs with people you know, it’s too easy to stick together and fall into the crowd. I’m not fully comfortable myself being ‘professional Erica’ in front of my friends, so I keep the two personae separate for now. I find it easier to talk to new people when I’m alone, so if you must go with a friend, agree to rendezvous after 30 minutes of mingling. This gives you an opportunity to share knowledge with each other, but to keep out of each others’ peripherals while you’re networking.
- Speak up- be polite, but do your best to make your way to the front of the booth if it’s busy. Have your questions ready, or listen into other conversations and develop questions from what you hear. Make sure to smile and be friendly, and never open with “here is my resume”. My general tip is not to offer your CV, but wait for them to ask for it. This way it makes them want it, and all the more likely to look at it (and remember you) later. Do your best to be intelligent and inquisitive, and remember to thank them for their time when you leave.
It’s not always possible to prepare ahead of time for career fairs, as the company attendance list isn’t always available (which was the case for me last week). In this case, try to develop general questions that still sound prepared–mine was “I was wondering if you were looking to take on any recent graduates in the near future”. When in doubt, grab a brochure and develop a question from there. You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, and for every new employer booth there is it’s another opportunity to try, try again. Most importantly, be yourself, because you’re
kind of really amazing at it!