Tis the season ... for job fairs. As summer draws to a close, recruiters are ramping up their efforts to find new employees at career fairs across the country.
Never been to a career fair? Or have you gone to one and walked out with a few business cards and a full stack of your own resumes? Never fear. Use these tips to make the most of any job fair.
The best way to prepare for a career fair is to find out which companies are going to be in attendance.
The fair's sponsor will usually have at least a partial listing on the event's web site or in advertisements. Review the list carefully for companies of interest to you. Don't let a strange name deter you; do your due diligence and familiarize yourself with all the participants.
Visit each company's corporate web site. Take into account the proximity of each to your home. Investigate recent company news using Yahoo!'s search engine.
Search for current news items on Yahoo! News. Investigate the financial outlook of public companies at Yahoo! Finance. And, finally, use Yahoo! HotJobs to search for current job openings to find out which positions recruiters will be trying to fill.
You've Gotta Look Smart
If you want the job, look like you've already got it.
Dress in business-friendly attire. A suit in a neutral color is always your best choice. Shine up your shoes the night before -- or treat yourself to a shine or a new pair of shoes. Make certain whatever shoes you wear are made for serious walking. Career fairs are often held in large exhibition halls and making the rounds requires that you spend a lot of time on your feet.
Arm yourself with a simple portfolio or briefcase and stock it with copies of your resume, business cards (if you have them), a pen and a small pad, some breath mints and a few tissues. Make sure, too, that you're able to hold all the business cards you collect as you make your way through the fair.
Finally, don't forget to bring your most winning smile, a good attitude and a firm handshake -- and make sure you showcase them to everyone you meet.
Scope Out the Scene
However long you have to spend at a job fair, make sure you give yourself a few moments to get the lay of the land. Walk the aisles. Make note of all the companies and their booths. Are there any surprise participants? If there are, and you're not fully prepared to speak with them, call a friend or use your cellphone or PDA to get any small tidbits that can help you more easily converse with their representatives. How are their stocks doing? Have they been in the news lately? What job openings come up for them on Yahoo! HotJobs?
Next, assess your time. Don't linger too long at any one booth. To cover more territory and make for smoother interactions, gather some materials from each booth and take a few minutes to review them. Lurk around and subtly eavesdrop on the interactions other candidates are having with each company's representatives.
Knock Their Socks Off
Because you did your homework, you have a sense of a company's culture, its needs and what positions are open. Using this foreknowledge and the information you've gleaned from the newest materials you've read and conversations you've overheard, whip up a short elevator pitch -- two or three sentences on your expertise and how it matches the company's current or future needs.
After you deliver your elevator pitch, try to engage each representative in a brief conversation. Be sure to ask a question or two and make eye contact the entire time. Don't monopolize anyone's time for too long.
Be gracious to everyone you meet, but remember not to act desperate. This is a career fair, not a final interview. Curiosity and enthusiasm will go a long way; overt aggressiveness will not.
Feel free to send brief thank-you notes to those you have met, reiterating your interest in working at their organization.