(Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series on preparing for job fairs.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Job fairs traditionally come in all sizes and flavors -- from the small half-day employer days to student career fairs at local high schools to full-blown, multi-day community job fairs that offer breakout sessions on a variety of employment-related topics for interested attendees.
While some hiring occurs at these events, job fairs usually give company representatives the opportunity to meet, greet and evaluate a pool of interested candidates for their advertised positions, to receive resumes from these folks and to talk about what their company offers in the line of a specific product line or service.
The reps make no promise that the resumes they receive from individuals will result in callbacks for interviews. I've heard some frustrated job fair attendees state that many of the reps were just manning booths, directing them to complete online applications at their corporate websites.
Have I depressed you yet? Well, don't be. Walking into a job fair may be a daunting task for you. You may be one of hundreds of candidates vying for a recruiter's attention, but you can make lemonade out of these lemons by following some tips for job fair success.
Research the employers you're interested in who will be at the fair. Typically, the sponsoring organization, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, will have published a comprehensive listing of those employers who have committed to man booths at the event. As the date of the fair draws closer, the sponsoring organization will also have published a map showing the floor plan of the event's location, along with where the representatives' (or "vendors") booths will be situated.
Having this advance knowledge does a couple of key things for you.
You target those companies with which you have a keen interest in gaining employment, equipping yourself with basic knowledge about those companies so you can talk intelligently with company representatives. This communicates the fact that you're not merely interested in working for that company -- you show that you care about the firm, and are also able to ask some targeted questions of the company representatives, which speaks volumes about you as a candidate.
You send the message that you have a sincere interest in the company and are not just looking out for No. 1. Additionally, knowing who you will visit allows you to individually tailor your resumes and cover letters for those companies.
You spend time visiting the vendors who are hiring people with your specific skill sets first. Your energies are likely to be at optimum levels when you first arrive at the fair -- use that energy to your advantage early-on. You should also mark off the companies that you speak with, so you can remember to follow-up immediately after the event.
Always bring multiple copies of your resume. Even though you have targeted company booths you want to visit, extra copies of your resume are crucial for that unexpected representative at the fair -- another company that appeals to your skill set and long-range goals. You don't need to hand out your resume aimlessly, but bring a dozen extra copies above what you need for your target companies.
Practice your "elevator speech." In her book, "60 Seconds and You're Hired," noted author and career counselor Robin Ryan discusses the importance of having this pitch are all at the ready for any prospective employer who asks you the question, "So … tell me about yourself."
Having a carefully crafted and naturally delivered elevator speech -- lasting 30 to 60 seconds -- gives you the opportunity to distinguish yourself from the rest of the candidate "pack." You can tell the rep the value you would add to their firm as an employee, or better yet, what you could contribute as a team member.
It takes a while to perfect your pitch, so write it out, revise it and practice it several times so it sounds natural and not like you're delivering a sales presentation for a new car.
You've probably heard it said, "We never plan to fail, we just fail to plan." Allow me to give you a target to shoot for, to plan for in earnest. The Fort Rucker Area Job Fair is slated for July 15th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Enterprise High School Gymnasiums.
Details about the event's vendors are available from the Enterprise Chamber of Commerce. Call Lisa Fenner, president of the Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, at 334-347-0581 (work) or 334-806-6607 (cell) for other event details. You can also contact Bryan Tharpe, director of the Fort Rucker Soldier for Life Center, 255-2558, or me at 255-2594.
Use the job fair preparation techniques I've outlined and, as always, happy job hunting!=