(The following is adapted from from Knock ‘em Dead Social Networking: For Job Search and Professional Success.)
If you’re looking for work, you may want to meet with prospective employers at a job fair, either in-person or online through a virtual job fair.
You might think that job fairs are just for entry- and lower-level workers, but they can also be useful to professionals. A company that is adding significant numbers of employees at less elevated levels is also quite likely to be adding senior people to balance and manage the new teams.
Here’s how to get the most out of in-person and virtual job fairs:
IN-PERSON JOB FAIRS
In-person fairs often charge a small entrance fee, but in return you get direct access to many employers, plus formal presentations by company representatives and local employment experts. When you organize yourself properly, take the right attitude and work all the opportunities, live job fairs can generate valuable leads and contacts for your social networks.
Very few people actually get hired at the job fairs. Employers tend to use these events to collect resumés that will lead to meaningful interviews in ensuing days and weeks. Nevertheless, you should be “on” when you attend one, because serious interviews can occur on the spot.
What to Wear
When you attend a job fair, wear proper business attire. You may be meeting your new boss and don’t want your first impression to be less than professional.
What to Bring
If you are in transition, you might consider bringing some business cards. You can get 250 made for as little as $10 through the Vistaprint website. Don’t make the card fussy with special paper stock, gloss or graphics; simple and understated makes the strongest professional impression.
You can quite easily turn a business card into a miniaturized resumé. Just use its limited space wisely. You need to:
Communicate critical information: Your name, your target job title, your job’s No. 1 deliverable and your contact information. The No. 1 deliverable is the identification, prevention, and solution of problems within your area of professional expertise.
Use legible, businesslike fonts, such as Times Roman and Arial.
Make it readable. Limit the word count to maximize font size to increase readability.
Make a strong performance statement. In the following example, for an accounting professional who works in Accounts Receivable, you’ll see the performance statement starts with a verb. This way, you not only demonstrate an understanding of what is at the heart of your job, you also deliver a powerful personal brand statement by telling the reader what you deliver.
The transitional business card resumé could look something like this:
Martin Yate 516.555.3728
Accounts Receivable Accountant
Focused on the prevention and solution of
recurrent A/R problems
Take to the job fair as many copies of your resumé as there are exhibitors — times two. You’ll need one to leave at the exhibit booth and an additional copy for anyone you have a meaningful networking conversation with. If you have resumés targeted to different jobs, take copies of all of them.
Bring along your laptop, tablet or smartphone. It will give you a means of capturing useful job search intelligence and offer you the ability to do emergency research as circumstances demand.
Using Social Networking
Job fairs offer a great opportunity for social networking with other professionals, as well. Make the effort to speak to other attendees as you walk around. Introduce yourself, smile, share what you do, ask your contact for similar information, exchange contact information and make a commitment to share leads and connect through your social networks.
If you know other people planning to go to the same job fair (perhaps you are a member of a job search support group), attend it with a collaborative effort in mind. You might even put the word out about the job fair and your attendance through your social networks. If you’re on Twitter, you could spread the word with #jobfair and #careerfair.
Your goal with a job fair, apart from the obvious, is to connect with other local professionals and build your networks. These people may be in different professions but if, as a group, you establish what you are each looking for and make the effort to speak to and collect business cards from corporate recruiters and other attendees regardless of their profession, you can help one another find more leads.
Then, arrange to meet up at the end of the day to exchange leads. I’ve seen a group of 20 people who were total strangers in the morning happily exchanging handfuls of leads and business cards at the end of the day. Think of it as live crowdsourcing.
Visiting the Booths
It’s easy to walk into a job fair and be drawn like a moth to the biggest and most attractive booths sponsored by the largest and most established companies and to ignore the lesser ones. But remember that companies with fewer than 500 employees generate the most jobs.
So work your way through the job fair methodically, visiting every booth, not just the ones with the flashing lights and all the moths fluttering around. Collect company brochures and collateral materials.
Ask questions about company activities and who the firms are looking for before you talk about yourself; this allows you to present yourself in the most relevant light.
Collect business cards from every company representative you speak to so you can follow up with an email and a call when they’re not so harried.
If you have a background and resumé that make you a match for a specific opportunity, make your pitch. Arrange times and dates to follow up with as many employers as possible: “Ms. Jones, I realize you are very busy today, and I would like to speak to you further. Your opportunities at __________ sound exactly suited to my skills and interests. I would like to set up a time when we could talk about _________ (job title).”
If, on the other hand, there’s a job you can do but your resumé needs some adaptation to better position your candidacy, take a different approach.
In this case, pitch the company representative, but don’t hand over a resumé that will detract from your candidacy. You might suggest that you’ve run out and will send one. Then get the contact’s business card and email address so you can follow up with a resumé customized to the opportunity.
In addition to the exhibit hall, there will be group presentations by employers. Since all speakers love feedback, move in when the crush of presenter groupies has died down. You will have more knowledge of the company and the time to customize your pitch to the needs and interests of the employer, plus you’ll get more time and closer attention.
Upon leaving each booth and at the end of the day, go through your notes while everything is still fresh in your mind.
Review each company and what possibilities it may hold for you. Also, review what you have learned about industry trends, new skill requirements, marketplace shifts and long-term staffing needs.
Plan to send emails and make follow-up calls within the week.
VIRTUAL JOB FAIRS
Virtual job fairs are on the rise because they are cheaper and reach wider audiences than in-person fairs. To find them, Google “job fair” and “career fair.” Since virtual job fairs can be metropolitan, regional or national in nature, do additional searches adding your city, state and region.
With a virtual job fair, you will need to fill out your profile (with a headshot) and upload your resumé, just as you do with social networking sites. You do this so job fair clients can subsequently search the database of attendees for potential employees.
Your approach to a virtual job fair is very similar to the way you would approach a live one: You’ll want to speak to someone at every company that is part of the fair — at least to the extent that you can post a question and get a recruiter’s response.
Virtual fairs can take place on a specific day, but they’re often open and staffed for up to a week afterward (sometimes a month), with recruiters accessing the database for even longer.
Reaching Out to Companies
A big plus with virtual jobs fairs is that company contact names are either posted or readily available. So while you may not get into email, chat, phone or Skype conversations with people who have the authority to hire you, you will be able to converse with ones involved in the recruitment and selection cycle and who know and can introduce you to the high-value names and titles likely to hire someone like you.
At virtual job fairs, recruiters and hiring managers are often available in the chat rooms. Make sure you visit each company’s “booth” and its chat room. You can usually get into a live chat immediately and this is very close to holding those desirable live conversations you’re aiming for.
I have heard of virtual job fair recruiters asking on the spot for a Skype number to initiate an immediate face-to-face meeting. This means that you need to understand how Skype interviews work.
Skype is the fastest, cheapest telecommunications service available with the best voice quality. If you don’t have a Skype account, set one up (it’s free to do so and then costs as little as $2.99 a month to maintain). A Skype call can be a telephone call or a video call; recruiters usually want to do video, which is why you should wear business attire when you attend a virtual job fair — or at least dress that way “above the desk,” since that’s the only part of you that will be seen on Skype.
If you are on video, it will be a head-and-shoulders close-up with the area behind you framing the shot. A plain blank wall is usually the best option.
When people do video chats on Skype, they tend to look at the person onscreen and not the camera lens on top of their laptop or tablet. This is a mistake. From the other end of the line, you’ll seem to be looking down and can appear to be avoiding eye contact — not the impression you want to create. A simple solution: put your laptop on a pile of books so the lens on your device is at about eye level and looking straight at your face.
Train yourself to look into the lens, not at the interviewer’s onscreen image. Imagine that the lens represents the interviewer’s eyes. Then, smile as you talk, just as you would in normal conversation. What the interviewer will experience is a warm and confident candidate who isn’t afraid to make eye contact.
You won’t do this successfully without practice, so I do strongly urge doing a few Skype video calls with friends to get a feeling for how you and others typically come across and to practice looking into the lens rather than at your interviewer’s image.
LEVERAGING JOB FAIRS
Professionals who use job fairs for reconnaissance can then leverage their social networks to identify the names and titles most likely to be involved in the job-selection cycle and approach them directly.
Mention any intelligence you gathered at the job fair, but not the job fair itself, and say that you know that their company is expanding in __________ area. Add that you have long admired the firm because of __________, and that you thought this was a good opportunity to find out if the expansion program was creating openings in your area.
With luck, your introduction will lead to an interview and ultimately, a job.
Excerpted from Knock ‘em Dead Social Networking: For Job Search and Professional Success Copyright © 2014 by Martin Yate, CPC and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
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