Attending a Job Fair: How to Prepare!

Each of us knows that communication on the job is ongoing but what we may overlook is that communication starts way before we actually get the job. The way you communicate at a job fair is part of building your communication skills to ensure that you get the job you want and deserve.

Among the various job search tools that exist, job fairs are clearly on the rise and growing in popularity. While that’s positive news for you as a prospective job seeker, it also means that you’ll be in good company with throngs of other job seekers. So that means one thing and one thing only– it’s critical that you stand out from the crowd. This article presents 5 steps to make sure that happens.

1. RESEARCH:

Depending on the job fair and the region, there may be large numbers of prospective employers in attendance. In order to optimize your time, it’s a good idea to do some planning. First, find out which employers will be onsite and then depending on your goals, select 3-5 to research. If time allows, you can always expand your list but this way you have a starting point. Your exploration will most likely include an Internet search but don’t forget to consider contacts that have worked for this employer in the past, currently work there or know someone who works there. The more information you have about employers, the more easily you can assess if they are a good fit for your career goals and skills. Part of your employer research should include job postings, location, infrastructure, growth plans, fiscal stability, target initiatives/projects, etc. With this information in hand you’ll be prepared to pursue these contacts. Your next step is to formulate key questions you want to pose if you’re able to meet with them. Figure out what’s most important to you and develop your question list; this will keep you focused during your conversation. Last but not least, try to access a floor plan of the job fair so you can flag where these employers are located and find them easily.

2. ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE:

Depending on your work style, it may not be uncommon for you to occasionally arrive early or stay late at your job. Similarly, when planning to attend a job fair those same behaviors are beneficial. Seeking a new job should be treated like going to work; it also helps keep you in the right frame of mind. As mentioned earlier, job fairs are now having record breaking attendance and you want to ensure that you get to speak to the employers you’ve taken the time to research. Therefore, it makes sense to arrive earlier than most and perhaps avoid long lines. On the flip side, if you see that a particular employer has a steady flow of traffic at his or her booth, you may have a better chance of making a connection if you wait till the fair wraps up. While other job seekers are making a mad dash for the door you can position yourself with your target employer. Plus, when there are less people around, either earlier or later in the day, you avoid distractions—and that’s always a plus! Additionally, put yourself in the employers’ shoes when they see you arrive before others or staying after others leave; it certainly puts you in a positive light!

3. YOUR 30-SECOND COMMERCIAL:

Well at this point if you’ve followed the first two steps, you’re in an excellent position to be face-to-face with your target employer. The last thing you want to have happen is to be tongue tied which can happen to any one. However, while you’re making your preparations in advance, part of your task is to develop your 30-60 second commercial or elevator pitch, in case you’re more familiar with that term. In the event that this is a new term for you, here’s an explanation. In the business world it’s critical to be able to present yourself in a manner that’s clear, crisp and professional. This probably sounds easier than it is. The primary goal is to avoid telling endless details about yourself that will not be remembered or that can just as easily be read on your resume. Let’s revisit step 1, research. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a good feel for what this employer values or is seeking. Once you know that, your 30-second commercial should make the connection about what you have to offer that will benefit the employer. Consider it the “hook” and once you have the recruiter or employer’s attention he or she will most likely ask some follow-up questions and you can provide more detail. Do yourself a favor and write out your 30-second commercial; maybe even a few versions. Then practice saying it so that it sounds natural and you’re comfortable with it.

4. NON-VERBAL LANGUAGE:

While we’re focusing on effective communication at a job fair, we can’t forget about the important role that non-verbal communication plays. Often we get so tuned in to the words we’re saying that we may overlook the fact that others are also influenced by our non-verbal communication. Specifically, you’ll want to pay attention to these 4 areas: eye-contact, facial expression, handshake & posture.

Your eye-contact should be direct, which helps establish focus & trust. Your facial expression should be relaxed and when you first approach an employer, it helps to smile. When it comes to your handshake, you want a firm grip that conveys confidence. The problem some people encounter is using either too limp of a grip where you use your fingertips vs. your palm or the other extreme is an overly tight grip, which can be overbearing, not to mention uncomfortable. Finally, let’s not forget about posture. Most of us have poor posture meaning that we slouch or round our shoulders, giving us a kind of stooped over effect. The problem with this is it just doesn’t present you in a positive light! You don’t have to go overboard and look rigid but try to keep your back upright and in straight alignment—it’s best to check yourself in the mirror first so you can make adjustments. Ask yourself if the way you look is confident or not and then modify, as needed.

5. CALL TO ACTION:

Once your conversation is drawing to a close, it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly how to end it, right? It’s simple. First, you thank the employer or recruiter for his or her time and reiterate your interest in the job or company. Then—and this is important—you want to indicate next steps. You can say: “I’d like to follow-up with you next week regarding what we discussed. Is it best for me to call you or send an e-mail?” This shows you’re serious about the job and that you mean business. Whatever time frame is agreed upon, be absolutely certain to note it on your calendar so you don’t forget. While you’re at it, always ask for the employer’s business card so you have the contact information you need.

If attending a job fair is in your future, these 5 steps will prepare you to go out there and get the job you want and deserve!

By: Dale G. Klein, M.A., Corporate Communication & Speech Specialist,©2009 Profitable Speech, LLC®. All rights reserved.