The spring and fall are ripe with job fairs and if you are an ardent job seeker you will be attending as many as possible.

Over the years I have spoken and critiqued resumes at many job fairs and I always make a point to notice the audiences, noting how people are dressed and how they approach me and speak to me. These things are important. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Curious about what others notice in these crucial first few moments, I asked exhibitors at a recent Toronto job fair what they remarked about candidates who approached them at their respective tables and what these people were doing right or wrong – their turn ons and turn offs, if you will. Here’s what they had to say.

Turn offs include:

  • A dejected look of desperation, sadness, low energy. This is a “Fake It Till You Make It” moment, pull up your boot straps.
  • A loose handshake or one that is too fast.
  • A lack of eye contact.
  • Unkempt or shaggy hair, roots showing, sloppy or ill fitting clothes, torn jeans, non professional presentation.
  • Chewing gum.
  • Smelling like cigarette smoke.
  • Too much cologne and after shave is offensive as well.
  • Swooping up to the table and hoovering up all the handouts without even looking at them.
  • Walking around in a winter coat with heavy boots. Take off your coat, bring a pair of shoes to put on instead of clunky boots, and look like you are there to job search.
  • Not knowing what kind of job you are looking for. Asking, “What have you got for me?” The purpose of a job fair is to uncover what you can do for a company.
  • Presenting a generic resume, looking like a jack of all trades.
  • Not having a resume with you.
  • Talking too quietly, whispering. Show off your ability to communicate effectively. Don’t yell, but show enthusiasm and some passion.
  • Talking about your education which is now 30 years old instead of your skills and latest accomplishments.
  • Talking more than listening.
  • Not knowing which company you are meeting with and what they do. Asking “What does your company do?”

Turn ons include:

  • A great attitude. A show of confidence, energy, drive and motivation to find the right job or make a connection.
  • Approaching the table with a smile and a friendly greeting.
  • Making eye contact during a firm, confident handshake.
  • Asking prepared questions about the company and the type of positions available.
  • Dressing appropriately for the position you are seeking. IT people might dress a bit more casually than accountants.
  • Being succinct and precise and knowing the answer to the question “Tell me a bit about yourself.”
  • Listening more than talking. Using concise verbiage when you do talk about yourself.
  • Presenting a clean, easy to read resume.

Something else to keep in mind: Not having English as a first language can be a detriment at a job fair. The rooms are often noisy and it is hard to hear and to be understood. Keep in the mind the exhibitors talk to dozens of people in a short amount of time so be prepared and be as articulate as you can at each booth.

Do your best to stand out in a good way. Start with an upbeat complimentary statement or wear something that shows off your individual style but that is appropriate to your industry.

Take business cards, record the name of the person you spoke to on the card and follow up within 48 hours either by email or phone. Even if you handed in your resume at the depot, send another one to the person you met at the booth, by email or in the mail.

Go the extra mile, be like a giraffe that stands out in a field of mice!

Colleen Clarke, Career Specialist & Corporate Trainer

Author of Networking How to Build Relationships That Count, How to Get a Job and Keep It

Co-author of The Power of Mentorship; The Mastermind Group