In this economy, you don't want to turn your nose up at any hiring opportunity. Career fairs are large scale networking events that get a bad rap for their impersonal feel and cattle call-style interviews. To some extent that reputation is warranted, but there are ways to master the system. If you know how to play the game, career fairs can actually be a gold mine of job opportunities.
Next time your industry or school hosts a networking event in your field, try out these five tips for making the most of career fairs. At the very least you'll come away with a pocket full of business cards and some scheduled interviews.
1) Be impressive
This isn't just a superficial recommendation. At a massive career fair you need to impress employers with everything from your resume typeface to your Windsor knot. Dress professionally and print out a few neatly formatted resumes on fancy paper to hand out. What defines professional dress depends on your industry. I have friends in creative fields that regularly attend business functions in ripped jeans and a T-Shirt. For them, that's fine, but if you're a lawyer or a nurse the hipster-casual look probably won't fly.
Try to maintain a positive attitude throughout the day. Career fairs are tiring for everyone. Treat every person you meet as if he or she is the first person you've spoken to all day. Ask interested and informed questions that show you've been paying attention. If a booth manager likes you, he or she has a much better chance of remembering you.
2) Collect business cards
You never know what's going to come of a chance discussion at a career fair. Ask everyone you speak with for a business card. You're going to meet dozens of different people from dozens of different companies. If one of them calls you back for an interview, you'll be happy you have a reference to help you figure out who he or she is.
3) Go in with a game plan
Most career fairs post manifests online well ahead of the event. Review which employers will be present at the fair and plan your day accordingly. You want to leave yourself enough room to investigate companies that catch your eye, but plan to anchor your day with visits to five or six predetermined booths.
4) Do your research
If you know a thing or two about your preselected companies, then you can more easily make casual chitchat at the booth. Always present yourself as an informed job candidate. Hiring managers know when someone at a career fair has never heard of their company before. Don't be that guy or gal.
5) Don't be afraid to name drop
If you have a connection to one of these companies through your personal network, don't be afraid to bring it up. Emphasizing a personal connection to a company is one of the best ways to get remembered. You can even have your friend or family member accompany you to the job fair and give a formal introduction. You see this happen with media recruitment agencies all the time. They get inundated with applicants, so only those with networking connections to the company get final interviews. It's the way the business world works.