Make Your First Impression Count

Tips on how to get the best from a job fair

Talk about working a room! Imagine you are at a career fair, in the company of hundreds of other job applicants. How in the world do you set yourself apart from the crowd?

Any tidbit you can offer a recruiter about their company immediately establishes credibility, says Henry Roman, electronic services manager with the Lendman Group, a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based company that organizes 100 high-tech career fairs a year. Credibility offers important leverage because a common response among career fair recruiters is that candidates don’t know anything about their companies. “If a candidate walks up to a recruiter and asks, `What are you hiring for?’ they have practically blown their chances,” says Roman.

Prior to attending a fair, do your homework. convention organizers, research which companies are hiring and for what types of positions. “Once you have all that information, decide what type of message you want to project,” he adds.

Typically, the interaction between a job applicant and recruiter at a career fair lasts for about one minute, so make that minute count. “Essentially, you need to be innovative,” says Roman. During this brief exchange, have some type of evidence, such as a portfolio or letter of recommendation that shows that you can provide solutions as well as be an asset to the company.

Following up with companies will also set you apart from other fob seekers. “When I speak to candidates, I always tell them to get a business card, make sure they write down the name of the person they speak with and follow up–don’t be afraid of possible rejection,” advises Roman.

Career fairs are usually well attended by job seekers, but several misconceptions remain about these types of events. One is that people don’t really get jobs. On average, most companies hire two to five candidates found at each career fair, according to Ed Toogood, director of employment at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Texas in Dallas, who attends several career fairs a year.

Another misconception is that career fairs are best suited for recent college graduates. On the contrary, those hired range from entry-level to middle-management. For the most part, recruiters look for candidates with college degrees and an appropriate level of experience.

Attending a career fair gives you an opportunity to make an instant impression–you’re not a faceless resume. “It’s one more opportunity to set yourself apart,” says Toogood. “But you need to go in with the attitude that you must network, hit as many companies as you can and have plenty of resumes that are easy to read. Don’t always go with the intent to get a job on the spot, but to network into it.”
Toogood says that in the past he has held on to the resumes of qualified candidates, and hired them months later when positions were available.

In addition to being a great opportunity to present your credentials to more than one company, career fairs are an excellent gauge of what’s going on in the market. And for the person not actively seeking a job, it’s a chance

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