Ahhh, the career fair. In my neck of the woods, there is at least one career fair a month. But it’s at best a cattle call with people swarming recruiters and company representatives. The recruiters are looking for the diamond out of dozens, if not hundreds of duds. And you just want to get a job. I have been attending career fairs for over 10 years and spent 90% of that time as a recruiter/company representative. During that time I have interacted with thousands of candidates (no that isn’t a typo). I have interviewed you, scanned your resume, handed you my business card or referred you somebody or someplace else. So here it is, your definitive guide to being successful at a career fair from an insider.

I have successfully navigated career fairs including interviews and job offers and so I decided to help other people.

People Waiting in Line

People Waiting in Line

My approach to candidates is based on three phases. This is Phase One which is ultimately the hardest and most difficult for most people, but will make all of the difference in your success. It is the hardest because you have to spend the most time with yourself and be honest with your intentions and answers.  Most of us haven’t looked at why we are working where we are working in years. And it also requires at least some answer to the question “What do I want to do?”

For your phase one, what you need to do is spend some time with yourself and figure out the answers to the following questions:

Define your objectives at the career fair

Do you actually want a job? Are you exploring opportunities? How soon are you looking to move?

Most people show up for a career fair with some form of “I want a new job” but they have no idea why or when or what they are looking for with regards to said job. Defining your success in a specific, measurable way actually makes showing up at the career fair easier to navigate because you know how you will approach every contact.

For example, if you are not looking to move immediately you goal at the career fair might be to make contact with three recruiters to create a network.  Having this particular goal will influence how you approach the recruiter, how you follow up with them and the way you present yourself and tell your story. Once you have collected your three contacts, everything else just becomes cheese gravy (yum).

If you are seeking a new job, then your approach changes. Your elevator pitch (and if you don’t have one, then create one and practice it) is crucial to getting to the next step. You can only do this if you know what position (or department). Many people approach the recruiter with only the” idea” of a position, but your elevator pitch becomes MUCH more valuable if you can tell me in 30 seconds “I want THIS job and here are the five reasons that my background make me a perfect fit.” Then I, as the gatekeeper, can take a specific action.

Ultimately, all of your behaviors at the career fair will lead you to an outcome, but if you don’t have a plan in place before you step foot on the floor, you will never meet your goals.

Review your resume (and if necessary have multiple version)

When is the last time you have had a your resume reviewed by someone that is NOT a friend or family member? A resume is a sales pitch and should tell an immediate story of why you are qualified for the positions you are seeking without the need for a backstory. If you haven’t reviewed your resume in awhile, take five minutes a day to update it rather than trying to do a marathon session. Then have it reviewed by a professional. Now, if you are looking for several different positions, then it is completely acceptable to have multiple versions of your resume. For example, you might have a version that speaks of your industry experience and another version that highlights the specific skills that you bring to a position. The best resumes are clearly tailored for the position. You should have a clear and concise viewpoint on the skills you have and why you are a good fit

Research all of the companies that you will be targeting

EVERY career fair has a pre-published list of the companies that will be hiring or looking to hire at the fair. Now depending on the purpose of the fair – for example in DC secret clearance is always popular – you should know EXACTLY what position you want to apply for when you get there. The #1 way that people fail in career fairs is they come and say “Well, I just want to work for your company and I can do anything but can you tell me what your company does?” No you can’t. If you tell me that I have researched your company and I want X position in Y department and here is why I ‘m a GREAT candidate for that position, guess what? You have just made me your ally. You have now shown me that 1) you understand the company and position and 2) have a good understanding of the work that we do and 3) given me a specific action step to fight for you. You want the recruiter to fight for you, but they can’t do that unless they know your story.

So here is your action plan for Phase One:

1) Define, with specificity, your objectives for seeking a new job

2) Make sure your resume is up to date

3) Do your research