Career Fairs: Cattle Call or Outstanding Opportunity?

I’ve been to quite a few career fairs in the last two months, and it got me thinking about their efficacy.  With 2,000 students and 200 companies, is there any way to get the right match?  On the one hand, there are so many options that everyone should find something they like.  On the other hand — how can you tell in just 3 minutes?

No matter how they do it, recruiting employers need to pass judgment in the short amount of time the have with you.  Some rely on instinct, some on proprietary methods they protect like the gold in Fort Knox.

What’s most important is how you can stand out to anyone and everyone you approach about a job.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Know who you’re talking to.  Are they one of an army of 23 – 25 year old corporate recruiters?  Or are they a hiring manager looking to find one or two people to join her team?  Corporate recruiters are typically armed with a common list of questions and criteria to look for, whereas hiring managers are likely to go on instinct and hire people they like.  Corporate recruiters will expect that you’ve done your research about the company and know what you’re getting into.  Hiring managers will be be impressed with any research you do and are more likely to go into detail about what you’d be doing together.  I’ll go into the differences in a different post, but remember: know your audience and tailor accordingly.
  2. Get there early.  From a cost-benefit standpoint, this is the best thing you can do.  Recruiters are more likely to be impressed by the first people they meet than those who arrive at the end of the day when feet are tired, voices are hoarse, and everyone starts to look the same.  If you arrive early, your chances are much better of leaving a good impression, not only because there are fewer people to compare you to, but because you’ve demonstrated that you’re a go-getter who takes charge of things.
  3. Polish your appearance.  I’m not talking about finding an outfit that “pops” — that’s another topic entirely.  Take care of the package you present — no matter what it is.  I met someone a few weeks back who had a very wrinkled shirt on under his suit.  “Maybe he came in from out of town just for this job fair and didn’t have an iron this morning,” said my coworker.  That could be — we all know mistakes happen.  But even worse, he may think it’s okay to wear wrinkled shirts to work if they’re under suits.  With more than one hundred other candidates who all ironed their shirts, will I even bother with this one, all other things being equal?  Another recent example is a candidate with dirt under his fingernails.  Maybe he simply forgot.  But maybe he thinks good hygiene only applies to his breath.
  4. Always have resumes.  If you don’t have a resume to leave behind, chances are you won’t get called back.  Resumes are your way of proving you stopped by the booth to say hello and ask a few questions.  They also demonstrate you planned for the event and brought everything you need.  Those without seem unprepared or, even worse, ashamed.  Also, make sure to keep the resumes in a hard folder so they won’t spindle as you’re walking around talking with ten different companies every hour.  Wrinkled resumes are the same as a wrinkled shirt.
  5. Do your research.  There’s nothing more off-putting than someone who asks, “So, what do you guys do anyway?”  At the absolute minimum, simply introduce yourself and say that you’re interested in learning more about the company.
  6. Don’t bring your parents.  Do you think I’m kidding?  People do this.  Does anyone want to guess how many people we’ve hired who brought their parents?
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