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5 Tips on Working a Job Fair - Real or Virtual

Career expo… recruitment event… jobapalooza… Whatever you call it, a job fair is a roomful of mutual potential: employers looking for new hires, and job hunters hoping to be hired. Unlike more conventional job-search methods, the job fair - be it real or even online, or "virtual" - guarantees a receptive audience for your resume and personal sales pitch. But your warm reception won't last long if you aren't professional and well prepared.

Why a Job Fair?
Employers sponsor or attend job fairs because they're a good way to meet a lot of job seekers in a much shorter time span than it takes to solicit resumes, conduct phone screens, and arrange face-to-face interviews. A job fair may be made up of dozens of employers together in a huge expo facility, a single organization recruiting for a certain type of position, or corporate recruiters setting up on a college campus to fill internships or entry-level jobs.

Sometimes, these events are held online and called "virtual job fairs." They bring employers and job seekers together via email and instant messaging. Some even use avatars - graphical representations of actual people - as part of the online interactive process. One company that offers virtual job fairs, McGuire Global Recruitment, cites the travel savings for employers and the confidentiality for job seekers as chief advantages of the virtual fair.

Whether you're a long-time veteran of the workforce or an inexperienced college student, you need to be as ready to work a job fair as if you were preparing for a job interview.

To fully prepare for a job fair, follow these five tips:

  1. Do your pre-fair research.  Learn what you can about the companies that will be represented at the fair by looking at their web sites, searching online for news and blog postings, and reading the biographies of their senior executives. If there will be a lot of companies at the fair, narrow your choices to those that best fit your goals and values.
  2. Prepare and rehearse your "pitch." Craft a powerful verbal sales pitch that summarizes the value and abilities you can offer an employer. To get started, review your resume to pick out all the valuable skills, talents, experience, and education you bring to the table. Then, decide which of these qualifications will be most relevant to the employer(s) you're targeting. It may also help to rehearse (if it's a live job fair) and revise your pitch.
  3. If it's a live job fair, dress conservatively, but comfortably. You will be one of many job seekers, and like it or not, employers will be comparing your appearance directly to the others'. So, dress as you would for an interview. Lean toward a conservative outfit, preferably a suit. Keep accessories simple, and be neatly groomed to project a professional impression.
  4. Have copies of your resume and business card ready.  Decide if you want to use one "general" resume that can apply to several positions, or use two or three different versions, each emphasizing a different aspect of your qualifications. Either way, bring plenty of copies to a live career or job fair, and, as always, make sure every version is 100% error-free. In addition, it's a great idea to get some business cards printed ahead of time, containing your name, contact information, and a brief statement of your qualifications or experience. At the job fair, give each person you meet a card so they have a portable reminder of how to contact you, and a handy place to jot down notes about you. For virtual fairs, you may be asked to submit a resume beforehand, which boosts your chances of having one of the employers in attendance contact you.
  5. Follow up. Within one to two business days, follow up with any employer that interests you and has a copy of your resume. This is a subtle way of keeping your name fresh in a hiring manager's or HR representative's mind. Send handwritten notes to people you spoke with, thanking them for their time and reiterating your interest in working for the company. This could also be a good practice after a virtual job fair since it allows you to get a bit more personal in what was otherwise a non-personal encounter.

Even if it doesn't directly advance your career, a job fair offers a venue to get solid practice promoting yourself and creating a positive impression. It's a great way to hone your interviewing skills, check out your competition, and refine your business etiquette.

Plan ahead, do your homework, and prepare yourself for success before you walk into (or log into) the job fair.

Have you ever attended a job fair? What advice do you have for other job seekers? Share your thoughts with us.

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