Getting the Most Out of Job Fairs

It was a typical day at the fair; however, there weren't any rides to speak of and cotton candy seemed in short supply. The midway itself was confined to a one-room venue with 23 employers seeking to entice prospective employees to their booths. They did so with all the usual tricks of the trade.

Elaborate table-top displays explained corporate missions and cultures while advertising available jobs. Business cards shuffled back and forth between those who had jobs and those who sought them. Other employers resorted to giving away freebie pencils, highlighters, letter openers, and, of course, candy.

It was a typical day at a job fair.

According to Kelly Measells, the Employment Readiness Manager at the Stuttgart Army Community Service (ACS), the job seekers who attended the 2005 Stuttgart Community Job Fair, sponsored by ACS and held at the Patch Barracks Community Club on August 25, 2005 were not disappointed.

The wannabe employees came in all shapes, sizes and styles. Some arrived dressed to impress in conservative business suits while others sported the ever in-season BDU. Some carried briefcases while a few even pushed strollers.

There were enough nervous smiles, sweaty palms, and resumes to go around the room for hours on end. To be sure, the fair did go on for hours, and with any luck, more than a few job seekers found the sources of their future paychecks.

Maybe you weren't one of the 335 in attendance at this particular job fair. Chances are, if you are in the job market or anticipate being in it, you will ultimately find yourself at one. If you want it to be a worthwhile event in your job search efforts, consider heeding the following advice.

Before you attend a job fair:

  1. Get a resume together. You should at least have an idea of what you want to do professionally before you attend the fair. That focus should be evident on your resume. If it's not, consider going without one rather than make yourself appear unclear.

  2. Practice small talk. Put together a "self-commercial" that briefly advertises who you are and what you have to offer an employer. Be able to vary the length of your "commercial" from 30 seconds to three minutes depending upon the level of opportunity.

  3. Get your interview suit together. A job fair is essentially a group of mini job interviews. You normally wouldn't wear your tennis shoes to one (unless it was expected) or haul your kids along with you.

    Make sure you dress appropriately for the level of position you are targeting. If you must wear a military uniform, don't sweat it. It's generally expected on installation during duty hours and often works to your advantage.

    Have enough resumes on hand. Limit your carry-on luggage. Turn the cell phone off. Have something to write with and on as you will want to take notes along the way.

  4. Find out which employers will be attending. If you are privy to this intel beforehand, you could tailor your resume in advance.

During the job fair:

  1. Arrive early and warm up. Employers are more likely to listen to you when they're not tired. Before approaching your dream company, warm up your vocal chords and gain that added ounce of job fair confidence by approaching an employer who you're not targeting.

  2. Gather information and take names. The real goal of attending a job fair is to gain information. Take advantage of available company propaganda and network with as many people as you can. Don't neglect networking with other job-seekers as well.

  3. Avoid restocking your office supplies and your mid-section with the free giveaways. Do you really need another pencil or ruler? Only indulge in the unique or informative.

After the job fair:

  1. Analyze your findings. Read and prioritize the handouts according to your career goals.

  2. Follow up your leads with tailored cover letters and resumes within one week. Take advantage of any notes you made during the event. This is the first step to finding out whether your attendance at the job fair was worth it or not.

  3. Continue your other job search efforts. Make a note on your calendar to follow up again in two weeks if you haven't heard from the employers you contacted after the event and then...move on.

Job fairs are a terrific way to get your face out there in front of prospective employers. And, if you're lucky, you might even find someone selling cotton candy.

The AUTHOR: Janet Farley is the author of The Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide (Jist, 2009) and The Military Spouse's Employment Guide (Impact Publications, 2012).