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Making The Most Of Job Fairs

Summary: You are only one of hundreds filing by the job fair booths, grabbing information and thrusting résumé at recruiters. In all this chaos, how can you stand out in the crowd? Here are some tips from experts about "working" a job fair

Author:  Nan Hawthorne

"Meat Market"

Are They Really Looking for Job Candidates?

What to Do Before The Job Fair

The Mistake Almost Everyone Makes

Best Foot (And Everything Else) Forward

"Meat Market"

"Job fairs are the meat markets of the entry-
level job market - with employers sizing up
candidates quickly, based on appearances and
first impressions," states So
it may seem like job fairs are a waste of time.
How can the companies find the pearls among
swine? How can you look like a pearl?
What catches a recruiter's eyes as you file,
along with the multitude, by a booth, trying to
get and give information in a manner that cries
out, "Hire me! I'm the one you're looking for!"?

Just as in a singles' bar," another meat market,
you can stand out. You can be the most attractive
and appealing person in the crowd. And it takes
pretty much the same sorts of qualities: good
personality, self-confidence, obvious and
desirable qualities, and genuineness. Oh - and a
great approach.

About 50 percent of the people attending job
fairs are not really job-hunting, according to (see Related Links), a web site
that offers a helpful tutorial about how to make
the most of a job fair. Many are just testing the
waters, seeing how their line of work. Most of
the remaining 50 percent will not have done their
homework or are not fully prepared to impress the
recruiters. This is your opportunity to shine.
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Are They Really Looking for Job Candidates?

Sometimes corporations are just checking to see
what quality and quantity of job seekers they can
draw upon. They may be primarily checking the
needs of other companies, including competitors.
Sometimes they are at a job fair because they are
expected to be there. It's their opportunity to
be visible, to be in the public eye. In the case
of job fairs specifically for disabled people, it
may be that the employers want to have on record
that they are open to job seekers with

But they also really do need good employees!
When a society's values seem to grant a higher
caste to bosses, it is easy to forget that a
company is its workforce. When you buy a new
calculator, the company did not design,
manufacture and market it: Individual employees
did. Many corporations with a history of
cutting back on labor to save money are now
realizing they are only as successful as their
employees. So recruiters need to meet at as many
potential "achievers" as they can. In some new
industries, the need for employees is a major
barrier to continued growth.

At job fairs for disabled people, employers are
sincerely looking for the best qualified job
seekers with disabilities. They have learned we
are not kept somewhere where they can come and
select the best. We are scattered throughout
society. So they need to get us to come to them.
They want to diversify their workforces but want
to be able to choose the best of us - just as
they want to have the best choices among all job
seekers. They want you; they just didn't know
where to find you!

Job Fairs, by the way, are great places to try
out your job seeking skills and also how to
present yourself as a disabled person. Take
mental notes on what seems to work with
recruiters and what does not. Even a job fair
with no results is great practice - just like
every interview.
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What to Do Before The Job Fair

  1. Do Your Homework. Most job fairs
    provide a list of participating corporations.
    That allows you to do some research. Check out
    their web sites, call their job lines, do
    whatever you need to find out which positions
    have the most openings and what they define as
    the perfect candidate. Have all this either in
    your head or recorded in an accessible
    format before you go to the job fair. You will
    save yourself a lot of wasted time by skipping
    the booths of companies which are not looking for
    someone with your skills.

  2. Bring Your Documents. Get all
    your "evidence" together in a neat package - the
    documents that prove who you are. Those documents
    must match what they want. You will need a good
    quantity of your résumé up-to-date and in a
    form best suited for the setting (see Related Links).
    Also have letters of recommendation from people
    whose names and letterheads will catch
    recruiters' eyes. (That's why you wanted to
    volunteer last summer for the mayor's office!)
    You will want a bound portfolio with samples of
    your work, whether artistic or technical or any
    other representative material for your chosen
    field. And put these all in a briefcase - no
    fumbling in backpacks or shopping bags.

  3. Plan Access. Think ahead about how you
    will get access to information at the fair.
    Depending on your level of vision, you may need
    as little as a magnifier or as much as a sighted
    companion who can fill you in on the many details
    or information you might miss. The idea is to
    appear as resourceful and as comfortable with the
    setting as possible so recruiters will recall you
    as not being one of the "needy" ones. Don't
    hesitate to ask questions, but be sure you ask
    them in a cheerful and positive manner.
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The Mistake Almost Everyone Makes

Once you have checked in at the job fair's
registration booth, don't do what most others do:
They get in line. Just as you need not go
systematically from aisle to aisle to pick up the
few items you need at a supermarket, it is a
colossal waste of time to go booth by booth
sequentially at a job fair. If you have
done your homework, you know precisely which
recruiters you want to approach.

Walk around the job fair. Pay attention to where
your favorite prospects are. Notice which
recruiters appear to be doing actual
interviewing. For the most part, job fairs
provide opportunities for just introductions,
although enough goes into these brief
exchanges so they can be considered interviews.

But some companies are finding an advantage;
they take introductions at job fairs one step
further. If you cannot readily tell, ask a job
fair official which companies are doing second
interviews. A second interview will get you right
up front with the job candidates a company is
taking most seriously.

When you locate your best prospects, walk up to
their booth from the side, not the front. Pick
up some of their literature and step back a
couple of steps. This allows you to be
unobtrusive, to glean more from the literature
you picked up and, most important, to listen to
the recruiter speak with other candidates.
Be aware of their conversation and notice what
the recruiter asks other candidates. Listen to
how the recruiter reacts. If there is more than
one recruiter, pay attention to which sounds most
like your own personality. Approach that one
only after you have developed and silently
rehearsed the answers that best match what the
recruiter clearly wants.

But don't waste time in lines - go to another
booth until that one clears out. And don't
approach them at all, if you are not right for
the job or it isn't right for you.

According to, the most common
first question asked by recruiters is, "'What are
you looking for here at the job fair?' 'A job' is
not an acceptable answer. You should be ready
with a clear and succinct description of exactly
what you are looking for. If you have done your
homework properly, what you are looking for
should match quite nicely with what they are
looking for. Your comeback after you have
explained your career desires? 'And what are
you looking for here at the job fair?' It's the
perfect setup for establishing common interests."
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Best Foot (And Everything Else) Forward

Some tips about job fairs should not need to be
said, but I'm going to mention them anyway. I
heard a blind man loudly announce to the
recruiter (and he was not joking), "I hope you
don't expect me to get there by 8 a.m. everyday!"
The basic rule is that any rule that applies to a
job interview applies to the job fair, too. You
are not cruising for jobs. You are being
judged as much as if you were sitting in a
conference room at the company the recruiter

  1. Appearance. Dress professionally. Be
    neat and clean and remove body jewelry from
    places you've had pierced (other than your ears,
    if you are female, in which case you should use
    makeup, too). Remember that you have no right to
    a job, just to an equal chance at one. And
    appearance is at least half of what recruiters go
    by at job fairs. Don't say, as I have heard
    someone remark, "Well, if they don't want
    me the way I am, then I don't want to work
    there!" With that attitude, no one will want you
    at all.

  2. Behavior. Be polite (confident but not
    pushy or rude). Be friendly and cheerful, but
    don't joke too much. And smile, smile, smile. Be
    discreet about other contacts you have made at
    the fair. Don't make demands or negative
    comments. For instance, don't say, "Well, I can't
    see so I can't read your literature. Can't you
    bring Braille copies to fairs?" You have just
    been filed under "un-resourceful" in the
    recruiter's mind.

  3. Flexibility. Besides being ready to
    modify your plan at any point, be ready to find
    opportunities among the throng. At a job fair I
    recently attended, I overheard a conversation
    where one person within the recruiter group was
    identified as being a key recruiter for a state
    agency. I waited until he was free and approached
    him away from the booth and where I had his
    undivided attention. Even other job seekers
    can be great contacts. You can agree to get in
    touch with each other to report opportunities
    that fit your different career choices. That's
    another form of networking.

Finally, the job fair is not over when you
walk out the door. Thank each contact. Tell them
why you think you are the best candidate for the
position you discussed. State that you would like
a chance to say more and will call them in a few
days. Be sure you get each recruiter's business
card. And make sure you make that call! In the
meantime, sit down and take notes about how the
fair went for you and learn from each
step you have taken during this opportunity to
market yourself to the prime prospective
employers you've just met.
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