My final piece of preparation advice is to research the dress code. Frequently, the web site for the job fair will have a suggested dress code. It may be “business casual” or even “dress or interview attire”. If there is no posted dress code, then I recommend you dress business casual if you’re seeking a non-management position, and use the more formal “interview attire” if you’re seeking a management position. By “business casual”, I mean nice slacks and a collared shirt for men, a skirt and blouse or nice slacks for a woman. “Interview attire” means a suit and tie for men and a tailored suit for women. Never, and let me repeat that – never, wear any kind of jeans or tee shirts (not even for information technology positions!).
Now, let’s get on to what to do once you’re at the fair, to leave a good impression and make the best use of your limited time.
Carry a portfolio
You should bring a simple portfolio folder in which you can carry your resumes and information which you gather at the fair (brochures, business cards, etc.). This not only keeps your resumes looking neat but also gives you a more professional overall impression.
Questions you should never ask
Having worked several job fairs, I can tell you that there are two questions I don’t like to hear: (1) “Can you tell me about your company?” and (2) “What job openings do you have?” When you ask these questions, it shows that you’ve done no research about my company and you’re just there to throw resumes at the wall in the hopes that some will stick. You should research in advance the companies you’re most interested in so that you already know what job openings they have. This way, you show you’ve done your homework and that you value the employer’s time.
So what should you say then?
When meeting an employer at the fair, you should not talk either too much or too little. Yes, I know this sounds contradictory, but I’ve seen many candidates that ramble on about their hobbies, what they like and don’t like and what they had for breakfast that morning. After a few minutes it becomes clear that they know nothing about my company and whether or not they’re a good fit. At the other extreme are those candidates that hand me a resume, saying very little, and expect me to read it and tell them if they are qualified for any openings I may have. These two types of job seekers rarely receive any subsequent consideration. Seems like sort of a no win deal, doesn’t it? Not really – as a hiring manager, in my mind the best applicants will: make eye contact, have a firm handshake, and be able to tell me in a few well-chosen sentences why they are qualified for my specific job openings. You should be able to clearly tell me why your experience and skills a good match for my organization. The applicants that can pull this off in an articulate and confident manner are the ones who get called for formal interviews.
Get brochures and business cards
Get as much information as you can from the companies in which you’re interested. If you can, get a hiring manager’s business card, but any company employee business card at least gives you contact information for future follow-up. If you can’t get the hiring manager’s business card, try to at least get that person’s name so that you can address them personally in future applications.
Find out how to follow-up
Before you leave a booth, ask if it’s okay to follow-up with the person whose business card you obtained (you did get a business card, right?). Ask how they prefer you follow up, by email or by phone, and then be sure to do so. But only if you’re a good match for their job openings. One of the best ways I’ve seen an applicant follow up is to email me an article that is relevant to my company or to some topic we discussed at the job fair, with a short note that they enjoyed meeting me and hope to hear from me in the future. This is a non-intrusive way to follow up that will be well received by most hiring managers.
You’ll likely find that job fairs in today’s tough job market have many more attendees than in the past, but the basics still apply and if you follow them you’ll still be in the top tier of candidates.