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Putting Yourself Front and Center
A job fair is an effective way to scout new companies, browse job opportunities and make professional contacts. It’s an especially helpful venue for working mothers, as you can meet dozens of potential new employers in one spot, on one day. To get the most out of this type of event, advanced preparation is key.
How a Job Fair Works
Most job fairs combine an eclectic mix of different companies who are looking to hire new people. Businesses usually pay to attend the event, set up a table or booth, and pass out literature about their organization. Staffers are on-hand to answer questions and advise job-seekers about the kinds of positions they have available. You can usually fill out applications and apply for jobs on the spot, and in some cases, you may get an impromptu interview as well.
Some job fairs are industry-specific. For example, a health fair focuses on positions in health care.
Scout the Event
Most job fairs are advertised in advance, through educational institutions, on community bulletin boards, and via newspaper and social media. Promotional materials and websites typically provide a list of the companies that will be exhibiting. To make the most of your time, narrow down and put in order the places you want to be sure to connect with. This gives you a game plan for working the show, and you won’t find yourself randomly wandering from one table to another. If there are top companies that really pique your interest, do a little research about them in advance. Read the company website About Us pages, and get a feel for products, services and corporate culture. If you’re lucky enough to get some one-on-one time with a hiring manager, you’ll be fully prepared.
Have a brief introduction, also known as an elevator pitch, prepared for when you meet hiring managers. Example: "Hi, my name is Sally Johnson. I've been in retail management for several years, and I'm looking to move into a senior-level position where I can fully utilize my marketing skills."
You’re advertising yourself at a job fair, so put together marketing materials that reflect the best version of yourself.
- Resume: Bring multiple copies of your resume. The document should be limited to one page and should include all your contact information. Carry resumes in a folder or briefcase, so they don’t get wrinkled and smudged.
- Business cards: Create simple business cards with your name, address, contact phone numbers and email. If you have an online portfolio, note that on your card as well, along with links to professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn.
In addition to handing out business cards, collect cards from everyone you meet. Follow up with an email that reintroduces yourself and expresses your interest in work opportunities you found appealing.
Application Prep Materials
You may have an opportunity to apply for jobs at the fair, so have a handy work history cheat sheet on hand. This can serve as a reference guide for the most commonly requested job application information, including:
- Names and contact information of previous employers and supervisors
- Name and address of previous jobs, including dates worked and salary range
- Educational information, including contact information
- Names and contact information for personal and professional references
Other handy items to bring along include paper and pen, a satchel or briefcase to hold all of the paper materials and promotional items you’re likely to collect, and a bottle of water.
Dress for Job Fair Success
Dress in business casual clothing for a job fair. You never know who you will meet, and first impressions are everything. You’ll put yourself head and shoulders above people who arrive in T-shirts and shorts. You’ll be on your feet quite a bit during a job fair, as they are often held in large conference centers or community centers, so wear comfortable, yet stylish shoes.
Should you bring your kids? If you don’t have another option, bring them along. But if it’s possible to get child care, it will free you up to focus completely on making essential business contacts. Bringing your children also may signal to potential employers that securing child care could be problem if you were hired.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.