The holiday whirlwind is over, which makes it’s time to re-focus on the job search. One great way to get a head start is to attend a career fair.
Sudip Mukherjee, president and CEO of Canada Job Expo, argues that these events are invaluable because of the opportunity to make personal connections. “Ninety-nine percent of companies are online these days, and so the essence of the job fair is to talk to people. The faceless company now has a face,” says Mukherjee.
The experience becomes even more useful if you maximize your time. Here are some tips on how to make the most out of career fairs.
Prepare in advance
Start by doing your research and choosing a fair that suits your search. Some are general with employers from many industries, while others have a specific focus, either by sector (such as IT) or by demographic (e.g. students). Once you’ve chosen a fair to attend, check out its website for a specific list of employers in attendance, then visit the individual employer websites to research companies that interest you.
You’ll also want to prepare some questions in advance. Mukherjee recommends thinking about the kind of information you can’t find online. Since most exhibitor booths are staffed by HR managers, there are opportunities to drill down about perks, benefits, and things like company culture. To increase your confidence asking questions, rehearse them with a friend or family member before you go.
Put your best foot forward
Head out for the job fair looking your best. Mukherjee recommends wearing business formal attire, and paying attention to grooming and hygiene before you enter the room (a quick visit to the washroom helps to make sure your hair has not become windswept). “Come in at your best, put your best foot forward. They have to remember you at the end of the day,” says Mukherjee, adding that he’s often surprised at the number of people chewing gum at such an event, so be aware of these inappropriate habits as well.
You should also carry several copies of your resume and a business card (if you have one) to leave with companies. Mukherjee recommends tailoring a couple of resumes to specific positions as well as carrying some that are more general.
Most importantly, says Mukherjee, you should bring a great attitude. “It’s most important to have good morale. Many people come in saying ‘there are no jobs.’ But they didn’t talk to anyone—defeating the purpose of what they already said,” he says. He recommends approaching the fair with an open attitude focused on finding information and making connections.
Maximizing your time
To maximize your time, head to the booths of employers that interest you the most first. But if you see a lineup, Mukherjee recommends visiting some others booths and then checking back. “Don’t wait in line when you could be talking to three other tables. Make the most of your time,” he says.
He recommends taking a quick walk around the entire fair to see the format. Some job fairs offer other services and workshops in addition to exhibitor booths. For instance, Canada Job Expo provides workshops on topics like resume preparation and interview techniques, as well as a photographer on-site to take free LinkedIn headshots (another reason to dress up).
Ask the right questions
When you’re visiting a booth, try to engage exhibitors in conversation rather than asking yes or no questions like ‘are you hiring?’ Mukherjee says the biggest mistake he sees from job seekers is not asking enough questions. “Companies will either say yes or no [to the hiring question], then seekers say ‘okay, great talking to you’ and walk away. But even if they’re not hiring you can ask about new positions, recent hiring, upcoming maternity leaves. That’s how you create opportunity, when there’s a pause or gap in conversation, take it to the next step.” He adds that offering to follow up afterwards can set up a window for you to reconnect once the fair is over.
Yet another benefit job seekers don’t always think about is the benefit of meeting and sharing information with other seekers. “Instead of staying home sending resumes from your computer, it’s better to talk to people. It’s a networking platform,” says Mukherjee. “You meet people in the same situation as yourself, you make friends, connect on LinkedIn, keep track of what the other person is doing.”
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