September 2, 2018 @ 9:16 AM

For years, I’ve attended job fairs as an organizer and previously as a job applicant.  Of the hundreds of clients I’ve helped, not one of them has said that they love job fairs.  Typically, job applicants complain about job fairs.  They find issues with everything from the choice of companies, to the long waits in lines, to the lack of jobs actually offered at hiring events.

I admit that all job fairs are not equal.  Some are more professional than others.  Some are setup to do more selling—with college recruiting and résumé services—than “buying.”  And while some recruiters stand out because of their genuine interest in job seekers, there are others who only attend a job fair to “get a day off.”   

I remember one prominent employer who sent an HR person to recruit at a job fair.  The lack of company handouts and on-site interviews were obvious signs that the recruiter had no real interest in screening applicants.  So, I wasn’t surprised when, at 12 noon, she had vacated her table and the premises without informing any of the organizers.

There are as many different types of recruiters at job fairs as there are companies in attendance.  However, with the right preparation, you can wow any recruiter.  Preparing in advance will not only help you get job leads and an opportunity to talk to recruiters, but you’ll be able to watch recruiters and job seekers in action.  You’ll be able to listen in on conversations and learn what does and does not work.  Where can you get such insight for free?

Today, I’ll share some professional tips on how to get the most out of the time spent at a job fair.  Unlike online job applications, job fairs get you in front of an employer.  You have maybe 10 minutes to show them—not just tell them—that you are the superior candidate they’ve been looking for.    Following are 15 great ways to outshine the competition in those 10 minutes.

1.      Research Companies of Interest

There is nothing employers hate more than candidates that have no knowledge of their company, products and/or services.  Well, there is another employer pet peeve: job seekers who have no idea what position they are applying for.  Such lack of preparation is considered insulting and unprofessional.  Do your homework before attending a job fair.  Job Fair announcements usually include a list of participating companies.  They also list the types of open positions.  If they don’t, call the organizer and ask who is attending and get details about job postings.  You can then research the companies on-line, at the library, or through an on-site visit.  Take note of company developments, officers, their layoff record, open positions, training opportunities and the like. 

2.      Apply On-line Prior to the Event

Candidates hate when they get to a job fair only to hear a recruiter say “We require all candidates to apply on-line first.”  Don’t let this rattle you.  The remedy is simple: apply on-line before you get there.  This is another great reason to find out which companies will be represented in advance.  Once you’ve done your due diligence, you can respond by telling a recruiter, “I have applied on-line.  What’s the next step?”  Adding this extra step of applying on-line shows that you are professional, pro-active and genuinely interested in the company.  And best of all, applying early puts you ahead of the competition.

3.      Bring 20 or More Professionally Designed Résumés 

A lot has changed in business, except for employer expectations of job seekers.  Employers still want to hire professional people.  Since first impressions still rule the day, ask a professional to design your résumé.  Be sure to tailor it to the specific job opportunity.  Avoid generic résumés.  Also avoid copying résumés on generic photocopy paper.  Make your résumé stand out by using professional résumé paper.  White and cream are still the best colors.  It’s the difference between eating with real silverware verses plastic.

4.      Be Interview Ready with a 30-second Commercial

Job fairs are known to draw a thousand or more applicants.  And with only one to three recruiters at a table, it’s impossible to interview every candidate.  I once watched the savvy way a pharmaceutical company recruiter handled the throngs of job seekers and interviewed the best candidates in 10-minute sets off to the side.  With only 10 minutes to make the best impression, an engaging 30-second commercial is your best tool to get a recruiter’s attention.   After all, isn’t that the point?

5.      Dress Professionally and Be Well-groomed

I’m always asked what “professional dress” means.  In short, it does not include jeans, sheer tops, gym shoes, smocks, unnaturally colored hair, and short skirts.  The appearance of chest hair, bra straps, cleavage, panty lines—need I go on?—should be avoided.  Also avoid any clothing (especially sizes that at too small), jewelry, tattoos,removable dental caps, hairstyles, nail extensions or colors that may be distracting.  Use common sense.  Ask yourself, “What do people wear who work for this company?”  Then, dress two levels above this.  It’s always better to overdress than to underdress.

6.      Wear Comfortable (Yet Professional) Shoes

Look professional, but definitely dress for comfort.  Job Fairs generally mean long lines—when entering the venue and standing at the booths.  Trust me, you don’t want to distract an interviewer or sabotage an important moment with a contorted face caused by foot pain.  If you must wear new shoes or heels, bring a backup pair, just in case.

7.      Don’t Smoke.  Bring Mints

At one event we hosted, I spoke to a client who reeked of cigarette smoke.  When I broached the topic, she turned to me in astonishment and said, “Can you really smell it?  I only stepped out to smoke for five minutes.”  When you attend a job fair, refrain from smoking.  Whether you meet a recruiter who smokes or not, bad breath is offensive.  In fact, a survey conducted among recruiters revealed that the number one reason they dislike job fairs is because they have to talk to applicants with “bad breath.”  I think that says it all.  Make sure you bring mints, toothpaste and a toothbrush to stay fresh.

8.      Don’t Socialize with Friends

At every job fair, I always see two or more job seekers traveling together from table to table.  Think about how this looks.  It has a high school feel to it.  But the majority of job applicants are not in high school anymore.  Even candidates on America’s Next Top Model know when to put friendship aside to focus on winning the competition.  Job fairs aren’t the place to socialize.  You need a job; your livelihood is on the line.  So, stay focused. You can socialize after the event.   

9.      Ask for a Business Card—and Offer Your Own

Always ask a recruiter for his/her business card. Now, let me warn you, some recruiters hand out generic cards.  These cards do not include the recruiter’s name or title, only the company address and a general phone number.  They do this for a number of reasons, but mostly to avoid the stream of job seeker phone calls.  Here’s a remedy: ask for their card, turn it over and write their name on it.  Also add something unique about them or the conversation you share.  This will serve as a reminder or talking point when you speak the recruiter in the future.  Once you get their card, hand them one of your business cards.  Very few candidates do this, which is good news for you.  A business card creates a favorable, lasting impression.  And, a business card rarely gets tossed like a piece of paper does. 

10.  Watch and Learn

Watch recruiters and other applicants interactbefore you approach a booth or table.  You will hear what recruiters are looking for and see how they respond to applicant questions.  This will give you a heads-up before you approach them.  When it’s your turn, you will be able to engage the recruiter in a more meaningful way, having gleaned from what you have heard and seen.  Instead of asking about open positions, for example, sell them on what makes you the perfect candidate.

11.  Stay Positive and Upbeat

Looking for a job isn’t easy.  By the time you arrive at a job fair, you have probably feel like you’ve clocked more hours searching on-line than blogger Perez Hilton.  Nevertheless, put job search frustrations and disappointments behind you.  Encourage yourself prior to the event.  You must stay positive and upbeat throughout the day.  Your winning attitude will definitely make you stand out.  So, what should you do if an on-the-spot interview doesn’t go well?  Don’t let discouragement take over.  Take a break by going to the lobby or restroom.  Review the positive points from the day, and then go back to networking.  Realistically, every company isn’t a right fit for you and vice versa.  It is possible that the company is right but you didn’t connect well with the recruiter.  You can always approach the company at a later date.  The point is, stay alert, focused, and engaged throughout the event—no matter what.

12.  Be Polite and Don’t Talk Too Much

I’ve seen applicants create a bad impressionat job fairs because of their rude behavior, numerous interruptions or just by talking too much.  First, mind your manners.  Not only are recruiters watching,everyone is watching.  Be polite to everyone regardless of who they are.  You should do this anyway.  Next, listen, a lot.  Never lead the interview.   Allow the recruiter to tell you about the company and open positions while you take mental or written notes.  When the recruiter pauses, respond or ask a question.  Interviews are vehicles of communication not monologues.  If you only prefer to listen to yourself, you will turn people off.  Respect the position and contribution of others.  And finally, don’t talk yourself out of a job.  Make your point, quickly, then stop and listen.  If the recruiter needs more information, he or she will ask. 

13.  Be Patient

If, by nature, you’re an impatient person, at job fairs you’ll just have to get over it.  From the time you sign-in, visit recruiters, and stop at the restroom, you will have plenty of time to wait.  It’s unavoidable.  I’ve helped plan events where applicants stood in line, and in the sun, for hours.  This can be dangerous for candidates who have health or physical limitations.  Organizers who have planned ahead will have a nurse or medical staff available to assist.  If you have a health condition, carefully consider if and when you should attend a job fair.  For example, arriving early will help avoid the long wait.  Bring water and a snack if you are taking medication.  You can also limit the time you attend by focusing your visit on four to six key employers instead of 12.  This way, you can achieve your goals in less time.

14.  Avoid Street Language

Saying words like “hook up” is fine when you’re with friends, but recruiters are turned off by slang, profanity or jargon (unless it pertains to the business or industry).  Speak clearly, properly and with excellent grammar.  Bad diction (word choice and pronunciation) will eliminate you from consideration quickly. 

15.  Be Confident

Employers are more likely to hire people who know who they are and the value they offer.  Anything less will make a recruiter overlook you, even if youare the best candidate.  Take time to rehearse your 30-second commercial in advance.  Review your résumé until you can quote the most important skills based on an employer’s needs.  Maintain eye contact, speak in complete sentences, and keep the same speech pace as the employer.  Try to connect with the recruiter, not by merely asking and answering questions.  Recruiters are looking for candidates who speak and look as if they already work for the company. 

Every job fair is a learning experience meant to get your closer to your career goals.  Whatever you’ve experienced in the past, don’t shy away from job fairs in the future.  Embrace them.  Connect with recruiters, learn from others applicants, and generally stay active in your job search.  Whether you get a job through a job fair or not, you will still gain valuable interviewing, networking, and marketing experience.  When you think of it this way, the benefits of job fairs certainly outweigh their shortfalls.