Amazon has 30,000 job openings and will hold job fairs in six cities to jumpstart hiring. Job fairs (or career fairs) are not limited to Amazon. Universities, professional associations, and affinity groups also organize hiring events that bring together multiple job openings under one roof.
If you are looking for a job, job fairs give you an opportunity to meet employers live, learn about different jobs and make your case for being hired. Some job fairs include interview slots on the same day. Some employers will accept résumés even for jobs not currently on offer. Sometimes workshops featuring companies, networking opportunities or job search advice are included.
If there is a job fair coming to or near your area, check the agenda for companies and/or jobs you are interested in. Even if there is just one company or job of interest, this might be your best chance to get in front of that recruiter. That said, job fairs do take time, effort and money (sometimes there is a registration fee, and there is also the cost of commuting and lost wages, if you need to miss a day of work). Therefore, don’t just show up and hope to get noticed. Here are 10 ways to stand out at a job fair:
1 - Research who will be there
If multiple companies will attend, research the companies to see not only what jobs are open, but also what is happening with the company overall – executive team, recent press announcements, new initiatives. This will give you an idea of what they are hiring for and what they are interested in. If it’s a single company event, like the Amazon fair, review their job postings and identify which jobs or at least departments you want to apply for. For all companies, look at your contacts and social media connections to see who you know there – maybe your inside friends can tell you who will be there, what they’re hiring for and/ or any helpful tips for how to make a good impression.
2 - Prioritize your schedule
If it’s a single company event, try to find the recruiters representing the specific departments or office locations you’re interested in. Find out if there is a general application you can fill out that will start your hiring process, and make sure you get that piece done. If it’s a multi-company event, know which companies you definitely want to see and do these first. You may run out of time before you can see everyone. If you have extra time, look for employers who aren’t busy – they’ll give you more attention.
3 - Keep your enthusiasm and energy high
When I represented companies at career fairs, it was exhausting! I was just one recruiter, and there were hundreds of candidates coming at me. Make it easy on these tired employers, and keep your energy high. Likeability matters, and if you approach people with enthusiasm, it is noticed and appreciated.
4 - Craft a concise and tailored pitch
Don’t introduce yourself to every employer in the same way. You are the same person, but they are representing different jobs. Even at a single company event, you might meet people from different office locations or departments. If you are open to being placed in either finance or operations, don’t talk about yourself in the same way with each group. Tailor your pitch to focus on your relevant skills and experience. Above all, be concise – plan on 30 seconds or less. You can always continue talking if the recruiter has time but don’t plan on it.
5 - Bring extra résumés
Whatever number of résumés you think you’ll need, bring more than that so you have extra. You never want to run out. If there are 25 companies at the event, bring 35 copies. Some companies may want more than one résumé if they are representing multiple hiring teams.
6 - Bring additional marketing material as needed
If you are a graphic designer, bring your portfolio in case there is someone at the fair who wants to view it. If you are a content marketer, bring clips or campaign collateral. I once interviewed a branding candidate who pulled out a tablet during our meeting and showed me various sites he consulted on. It was an easy and impressive way to supplement what he was saying.
7 - Bring what you need to be at your best throughout the day
In addition to bringing your résumé and other marketing for the employers, don’t forget about taking care of yourself. Wear comfortable shoes. Bring water and snacks to maintain your energy. Figure out what kind of bag or folder you will use that enables you to easily pull your résumé out, put in business cards you collect from others, and grab a pen or your cell phone as needed. You want to appear put-together, not disorganized.
8 - Be prepared with references – as needed
Do not liberally distribute your references – your reference list includes people’s contact information and should be kept private. However, you might need to fill out a company application which asks for references, so it’s helpful to have the information handy.
9 - Be ready to interview on the spot
Some job fairs include interview time on the agenda, but even if that isn’t specified, be prepared to interview anyway. Every interaction with an employer is an interview. When you approach the table and have that one-minute back and forth, that’s an interview because that employer is formulating an opinion about you. Even if the job fair representative isn’t directly involved in hiring you, they decide whether to share your information with the hiring team and whether to say, “You should talk to this person!” or “I don’t really remember this person…”
10 – Collect contact information and follow up after the job fair
Ask employers about the best way to keep in touch, and actually stay in touch. Some employers will hand out business cards – send a thank you note for attending the fair, send an article that continues whatever topic you may have discussed, send another copy of your résumé referencing the current jobs you would like to be considered for. Even if it seemed like you didn’t get any substantive time with the employers, your presence at the job fair is still helpful because you can refer to it in your follow up, and the employer knows you were interested enough to stop at their table.
The job fair is one step in a multi-step hiring process
While you prepare for job fairs, attend them and follow up after them, you also want to keep the rest of your job search going. Attend additional networking events. Contact companies outside of job fairs. Create your own opportunities.