Networking at a Career Fair – Objective is NOT to get a job!

You are probably surprised by the title – after all that is the whole reason you go to a career fair, right?  WRONG!!  Many people go to a career fair with the wrong objective which leaves them feeling desperate and feeling like they didn’t accomplish anything once they leave.  That’s because they approached the career fair the wrong way.

You should have 3 goals:  making connections, practicing selling yourself and getting feedback on your resume.   With these 3 objectives you can’t go wrong and you will always accomplish your goals.

Here are 6 easy steps to accomplish your 3 goals:

1. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH

Many times you can find out which employers are coming to the career fair in advance.  Pick your top 10 companies that you want to approach because you will not have time to talk to everyone.  Do research on those companies – specific job openings, values, future plans, current news – so you can convey that information to the employer.  It shows that you are really interested in them and have done your homework.  You can jot your research down and refer to your notes when speaking with the employer.

2. GET THERE EARLY AND DRESS PROFESSIONALLY

You should arrive at the career fair right at the beginning.  You want to be one of the first job seekers the employers speak with.  You will be able to talk to them when they are enthusiastic and eager to speak with candidates.  If you wait until the middle or the end of the career fair, the employer will probably be tired and just going through the motions.  You should plan what you are going to wear the night before.  Keep in mind how you dress is part of your first impression and employers will see what you have on before they meet you.  If you even think for one second that what you have on is inappropriate — it probably is!  You should dress the part; that is, dress like someone who already has the job you are seeking.  Employers have to see you fitting into their team and a large part of that is the image you portray.  Be sure to wear comfortable shoes no matter what outfit you pick!

 3. HAVE SEVERAL COPIES OF YOUR RESUME
Even though you are going to target your top 10 companies, you want to have several extra copies of your resume in case you want to speak to an additional company.  I would suggest having 15 – 20 copies ready.  You should have your resume printed out on resume paper so it will stand out.  Never staple anything to your resume.  You may paperclip your cover letter, references, business card, etc.  It never hurts to have a professional look at your resume and give you feedback, so ask for it!
4. SELL YOURSELF
You should have a 60 second commercial prepared when speaking with employers.  Chances are you will only get 5 minutes (yes, 5 minutes) to speak with them.  You can’t monopolize their time as they have lots of other candidates to speak with.  So you need to make your 5 minutes count!  Rehearse your 60 second commercial and be prepared to begin with that right after your firm handshake.  You are approaching them so you have to initiate the conversation.  Your 60 second commercial, or elevator speech, could consist of things such as education, experience, skills, short-term goals, languages you speak, etc.  A great way to sell yourself and make yourself stand out is to have a mini-portfolio highlighting your work experience.  Did I say rehearse your 60 second commercial?
5. HAVE AN EXIT STRATEGY 
You have to decide what you want from the employer – more information about a particular job, ways to apply for jobs, to meet with them for a one-on-one interview, etc.  Whatever your plan is, you need a way to get this information just before you exit.  CAUTION:  Don’t be too overbearing this will backfire on you!  Very professionally ask them what the next step is after the job fair and what is the best way to follow up with them.  If you get nervous, and forget what you are supposed to be saying, at least get their business card.  Don’t leave without giving them yours as well.  Your business card should list contact information, skills and qualifications on the front and have a QR code for your online portfolio, website or LinkedIn profile on the back. (Don’t have business cards?  Read my blog, “You Don’t Have to Have a Business to Have Business Cards.”)
6. FOLLOW UP
Follow up with every employer you talked with IMMEDIATELY (the same day if possible).  You have their business card so you can e-mail or call them depending on what they told you is the best way.  You want to thank them for taking the time to speak you.  Mention something specific that you talked about in your conversation so that they remember you.  If you’re following up by e-mail, make the corrections they gave you for your resume and attach it so they can see that you followed directions.  Also, include your online portfolio, LinkedIn profile, website or blog to give them more information on who you are.  One last thing:  ask them another question about the specific job or company to give them a reason to write you back.  You can also try connecting with them on LinkedIn.

BONUS TIP:  If you are nervous about approaching employers when you first arrive to the career fair, “practice” on 1 – 2 companies that you don’t necessarily want to work for.  That way you can get a feel for how it will go and get some of your nervousness out.  Then approach your top 10 companies.

There you have it…with these 6 simple steps you shouldn’t go wrong when networking at a career fair. You should never leave disappointed or overwhelmed because you will always meet your goals:  making connections, practicing selling yourself and getting feedback for your resume.

Happy  Networking!

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If you need career assistance, please contact Dena Bilbrew at resumelady101@gmail.com.

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