Early in my career, job fairs seemed like the most obvious way to get a handful of offers under one roof. I thought I’d show up, turn on the charm, and hiring managers would be tripping over themselves to offer me an awesome position. Except that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever scored so much as a phone interview.
Fast forward a bit to my stint as a recruiter and I realized that those past experiences made sense. Why? Well, I quickly learned most companies aren’t prepared to just give out jobs to everyone who hands over a resume. And while this might make these events seem like a complete waste of time, that’s not the case either.
You might not cause a bidding war, but there are a few opportunities for candidates who are willing to put in the effort.
These are four things you absolutely must do to make going worth it:
1. Do Your Research
As a candidate, I used to chalk up the lack of response to my resume as simply a common response to all the resumes hiring managers received at events. And while my younger self would still like to believe that, the former recruiter in me knows that the opposite is true. If you’re a good fit for a role with a company, someone will make a note to remind him- or herself to reach out.
You might be wondering how anyone could find out whether or not a company has gigs that suit them before going. Well, it’s actually pretty straightforward. Most job fairs provide lists of attendees well in advance. So, it’s up to you to spend some time combing through the list, identifying the places you’d actually want to work. And once you’ve done that, thumb through their open positions online. It can be labor intensive, but will ultimately make your experience more productive.
2. Make Yourself an Itinerary for the Day
You might be thinking, “Seriously? There’s even more to do before I even show up?” The answer is a very firm yes. Since you’ve done the work to come up with a list of attendees you’d actually like to work for, you should also take the additional step of mapping out where those companies will literally be located, and at which point you’d like to speak with them.
A Business Insider article recommends you open yourself up to wild cards—meaning you should leave time to speak to people who aren’t on your list. (In only semi-related news, the article also suggests something that you wouldn’t think of, even though it makes perfect sense: Pack yourself a few snacks for the long day ahead.)
3. Organize the Business Cards You Receive
It would be easy enough to simply go to a career fair and hand out your resume to anyone who will accept it. And sure, there’s plenty of value in bringing enough copies of your materials to leave with the employers you’re really interested in working for. But here’s the thing—while you’re not necessarily on an official interview at any point during the day (unless someone says, “Hey, let’s sit down for an interview”), your interactions are really good networking opportunities. And as such, you should make sure you have all the information you need to continue the conversation long after the job fair ends.
If you’re anything like me, business cards tend to end up buried at the bottom of your backpack at the end of a job fair. So, while I’m not suggesting that you decline one when it’s offered to you, I would suggest staying organized during the event. Maria Baugh of LearnVest recently outlined a simple, but easy plan for you once you return home. First you purge any that you’ll never use, then you add any keepers into your LinkedIn network within 48 hours.
4. Follow Up on Actually Following Up
On the note of LinkedIn, following up is key. Sure, you might not leave with all the offers you wanted, but if you played your cards right, you probably left with some key contact information. So, it’s up to you to come up with a plan to actually follow up with those people.
In my experience, if I forget to follow up with someone within a week of meeting that person, I’m probably not going to at all. So, put time on your calendar before even going to the job for sending follow-up emails. For people you didn’t discuss openings with, send a simple thank you messages. And for the recruiters you actually talked to about a potential role, take some time to find a talking point from your conversation and use the message to continue it (I’d strongly suggest something other than, “Hello, please hire me”). These are long-term plays, but ultimately it’s worthwhile to put this amount of thought into how you communicate with contacts after it’s all over.
I apologize if I’ve been the bearer of a bit of bad news here. But the truth is that most companies simply don’t have stacks of offer letters to hand out at a career fair. That being said, you’ll have a few chances to make a really great impression on someone who could potentially be your employer down the road. So, do your homework, be prepared, and make the really great impression that I know you’re perfectly capable of making.