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home : Careers : Choosing a Direction :

Conquering Career Fairs

The face of career fairs has changed since the halcyon dot-com days, but that doesn't mean they're not still worth a look.

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During the mid to late 90's, career fairs involved a near-lurid courting dance of employers desperate for help, and students and recent grads parading about in ratty attire shaking their tail feathers and making wild demands. Because the job market was so strong, many received job offers - and signing bonuses - right there on the spot.

Well, job seekers are paying for their sense of privilege and arrogance these days, as employers, still reeling psychologically from the indignity of groveling at the feet of inexperienced college students, have retaken the reins. Now students are groveling... and groveling... and groveling.

But that's the employment cycle for you, one day you're demanding a company car, the next you're begging for a broom closet and minimum wage to keep out of the rain.

Nevertheless, career fairs, though they've dwindled in proportion to the number of jobs, offer good opportunities to learn more about an industry, make some new friends and contacts, and maybe even get your foot in the door of a choice firm.

First, take some preparatory steps:

1. Do your homework. What industries will be represented? What skills are they looking for in an employee? What positions are open? If you're interested in breaking into one specific field, get a handle on which relevant firms will be in attendance and tailor your resume to their needs. If your interest is more general, research companies that might be of interest, and tailor several resumes. Never go in cold, you won't be able to fudge a conversation with a company rep when you haven't a clue about the company itself.

2. Resumes. Tailor them to whichever firm you're interested in. Once you've done your homework, you'll know which skills to play up and which to bypass. (More resume tips)

3. Draft a list of specific questions, so as not to waste the employer's time. This will convey your courtesy and focus - two highly marketable traits. Additionally, ready some answers to general questions employers will expect you to answer. Think along the lines of:

  • "So, tell me about yourself."
  • "What can you contribute to our company?"
  • "What makes you interested in this job?"

4. Dress nicely. Except perhaps for Major League franchises, no one wants to hire an adult in a baseball hat. Business attire is the way to go -- clean and sharp. Try to look more like a professional than a college student. Leave the backpack at home and replace it with a portfolio, or even a briefcase, if you have one. Stock it with notepaper, pens, resumes, business cards and, if need be, work samples.

Once at the fair, employ all the stuff you're supposed to employ in an interview. Be direct, give a good handshake and proffer a polished resume and cover letter. Sell yourself. Take notes on every conversation for future reference, and to keep all the representatives in order. In other words, do everything you can to stand out in the mind of the employer. This includes following up afterwards. Be sure to ask for contact information during the talk, and send a note to thank the employer for his/her time and to restate your interest in the job.

Also of interest: The Job Outlook, How to Find the Right Job, Acing the Interview, Resumes That Work Harder Than You Do.

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