This article will help you prepare for your next job fair by giving you a glimpse of what happens from the employers’ side of the proverbial job fair booth.
The job fair experience has been dissected into three categories — 1) Pre-event; 2) the Event itself; and 3) Post-event — and we’ll examine each category from the perspective of a job fair recruiter (that’s where the “confessions” come in). Here we go:
PRE-CAREER FAIR CONFESSIONS
Nine of every 10 career fairs I attend require me to travel from out of state, which means long security lines, lost baggage, cheap hotels, greasy food, clunky rental cars and getting lost on my way to the event center. Since most venues lump their career fairs into the same 7 months of the year, I relive this pleasure up to four times a week from August through March.
Consider how I have to wake- up at 6am (assuming I even fell asleep at all) to lug my bulky materials to the event center. After an hour of set-up time, voila! I have 10 minutes before the doors open and candidates rush in — and I haven’t had breakfast or even a glass of water. I use the next 10 minutes to make sure the display items I shipped ahead of me are actually here. Looks like only half of my company brochures made it, but at least the “goodies” are accounted for — after all, that’s the reason most candidates stop by my booth. They love the fiber-optic yo-yo that plays the local football team’s fight song!
1. Be mindful of the recruiter’s grueling schedule. Be courteous; it’s too easy to make the wrong impression on someone who may be fatigued. I was once greeted at the airport by a few candidates. Kinda creepy!! Don’t monopolize my time at the booth, there are lots of other people in line and I need to meet them all.
2. Make life easier for the recruiter by preparing. Bring all your materials (resume, transcripts, references, contact information), and organize your thoughts and questions. Don’t climb over other candidates just to get the “goodies” for your kinds. It’s conduct unbecoming of a professional.
3. Be as low-maintenance as possible. Don’t demand special treatment, such as an interview on the spot. And don’t expect the recruiter to answer difficult questions, such as “How much would you offer me to come and work for you?” Interviews and offers rarely or never happen at the booth.
CAREER FAIR (ACTUAL EVENT) CONFESSIONS
During the event, I shake hands with hundreds of candidates, many of whom treat the introduction as if it were a “speed dating” session. There are some other major mistakes that I notice on a regular basis: They look at their shoes while speaking or they are trying to find the next booth they want to visit and aren’t paying attention to me. Or worse, they hand over their resume and wait for me to say something.
During one job fair, I calculated that candidates asked me the same question 141 times: “So what does your company do?” It is the worst question candidates can ask because it shows they did zero research and weren’t focused on what they wanted from this job fair. On the flip side, imagine how elated I am when a candidate says: “I learned that your company has a widget manufacturing operation in Canada. I am from Toronto; can you tell me how I might be able to use my degree in manufacturing operations in a program such as yours?”
Candidates who are able to direct a conversation get added to the “call-back” pile. That means they introduce themselves, describe how their backgrounds fit with the company’s bottom line and close with one good reason they match the criteria in the job description that was posted for this fair. That is how to stand out from hundreds of candidates in a mosh-pit.
1. Visit recruiters at the start of the fair, when they’re still fresh and lines are short. That gives you the chance to meet with your top companies, with time to spare for your “B” companies. Did you ever see candidates running from booth to booth, working up a good sweat? Do you think people in this category get a follow-up interviews?
2. First impressions count more than ever. Act as if the recruiter you are speaking with is the only recruiter in the room. Practice your introduction, your handshake and your 15-second answer to “Why you stopped at this company booth.” It will help grow your confidence. One gent who stopped by my booth was wearing cut-off shorts and was eating a big bag of Cheetos. He reached out to shake my hand with orange stained fingers and asked, “So, what does your company do?” He ended up on the NO pile.
3. Remember the three R’s: Research the company; Relate your qualifications to the company’s hiring needs; and Respect the recruiter’s time.
POST-CAREER FAIR CONFESSIONS
When the job fair starts winding down, most recruiters want to pack- up and head-out: there are flights to catch, traffic to beat and food and water to consume. Don’t be the person hanging around when I’m taking down my display, and don’t ever follow me to my car.
Once recruiters return to the office, it takes a few days to check notes and review resumes, which are then either forwarded to a hiring manager or dumped into an online database. Plan on days, or even weeks, for a hiring manager to contact you (they’re busy people). Recruiters appreciate thank-you’s by e-mailbut notsnail mail. Don’t bother sending me a thank-you letter without a connection to your LinkedIn profile.I’ll need to see your photo to even have a remote chance of remembering you, and your professional profile will jog my memory about your background. If you’re smart, your LinkedIn profile’s portfolio will have work samples in it and if I have time I’ll be sure to puruse it. Bonus job fair leverage for you!
Never use a “back-door networking” method to find the name of a hiring manager, and never contact a manager if his or her name wasn’t advertised or referenced at the job fair. One time acandidate from a job fair bypassed me, called the hiring manager and attempted to negotiate a higher salary over the phone. Imagine my surprise when the irate manager called me, thinking that I provided his contact info. Imagine the manager’s surprise when he learned that I didn’t and that the candidate was trying to “manipulate our hiring system.” Imagine the candidate’s surprise when he was removed from consideration!
1. Don’t network as the fair is closing its doors.
2. Follow up with a thank-you note to the recruiter only if it has your LinkedIn profile attached. NEVER follow up with a phone call!
3. Be assertive with your follow-up, but never aggressive.
There you have it! Confessions from the recruiters perspective, which I hope, will help you prepare for your next job fair. As is the case in any form of business, job searching, or interpersonal relations, ALWAYS take time to understand the view-point of your colleague, customer, associate or project partner. When you fully understand what the job fair recruiter is experiencing, enjoying, fleeing, or fighting, you will be able to arm yourself with the tools you need for success. So, when you are at a job fair in the future, pay attention to the “intangible” variables that impact the duties of recruiters. And, make sure you are doing your part to augment or support those intangibles. Believe me, recruiters will take notice and you will find yourself enjoying a productive job fair experience!