Inside Human Resources: Make the most of job fairs

job fair
You’re carting your résumés and ready to go — but how can you make a job fair really matter?

Ah, the job fair. You know the drill: neatly pressed suit, polished shoes and countless copies of your résumé.

For recruiters, though, it’s a different story as they prepare to shake countless hands and engage in endless versions of the same chat. At the end of the day, they will leave the job fair with a stack of papers, empty antibacterial soap bottles and memories of only a few key conversations.

Be the person who has one of those stand-out, critical conversations with these tips:

1. Be vibrant! Stand out visually. If you’re a recruiter, you’ll meet hundreds if not thousands of applicants at a job fair. Picture a sea of navy blue and black interview suits. (On second thought, don’t.)

Eyes back to you, oh ambitious job seeker: Why not appear at a job booth wearing a fuchsia tie or polka dot scarf? Put a professional exclamation mark on your appearance; it will go a long way. Make it easy for recruiters to remember you when they’re back at their desks. Chances are, other job seekers won’t be sporting a memorable accessory. Don’t overdo it though – less is more. Pick one item and make it pop!

2. Do your homework. Of course you should have already researched employers — that’s a given. The last thing a recruiter wants to do talk repeatedly about information that’s easily found online.

Instead, go that extra mile by making the most of your fleeting face time — make every second and every word count. Dig into the job description ahead of time and ask specific questions; have a meaningful conversation about the company and where it’s headed. Here are a few to get you started:

• What do they look for in an ideal candidate?
• What is the culture of the company?
• What is the employer’s hierarchy and structure?
• Who is the recruiter who will be filling this job?
• How long has it been open?
• Are they taking on new employees because they are expanding, or did someone vacate the post?

3. While you’re at it, talk the talk. Go ahead, don’t be shy! Speak the lingo specific to your field. If you’re an economist specializing in valuation, start dishing about tangible and intangible assets. This will show you’re not only serious about your craft, you’re immersed in it. You’re a pro, there’s no doubt about it. (And if you’re not, don’t try to fake it because you may get follow-up questions you’re unprepared for. Never lie and try to pretend you’re something you’re not.)

Keep in mind the representative you speak with may not manage the positions you’re interested in pursuing. That’s fine and not uncommon; simply continue to wow the person on the other side of the table and be sure to find out the name of the person who will be staffing the postion.

4. Get contact information. Find out the name of the person you’re speaking to or the person you need to connect with in order to keep everything moving forward. Momentum is critical and so is a contact name. Some recruiters may run out of business cards while others will provide a generic mailbox. Be sure to get their contact information or ask who to speak with specifically. The person you see at the job fair may have had to simply take his or her turn covering the event, so find out on the spot who to contact.

5. Follow up. If you hand over your résumé and actually expect a follow-up call or email within a week, then I have the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

What really happens after a job fair: A coordinator will likely upload résumés into a system so recruiters may eventually search for them, but they probably won’t be associated with a specific job requisition. Alternately, recruiters will ask you to go online and apply through the applicant tracking system instead of providing a hard copy résumé.

Don’t rely on their procedure and potential black holes — instead, create your own (procedure, that is). Send an email to the contact who graciously provided you with a name (if not their own) and treat it like a succinct cover letter stating the basics: You met at the job fair, your résumé is attached, you’re interested in the specific requisition (include job title and number usually listed on the Web site), toss in some lingo and mention you’re available for a follow-up conversation via phone or in person.

Vicki Salemi is a career and human resources expert and consultant with 16+ years of hands-on corporate management experience. She’s a public speaker, coach, the author of Big Career in the Big City and on-air host of Score That Job


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