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Monday, Aug. 31, 2015 12:05 am

How to prepare for a job fair

PHOTO BY METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION
Job fairs can be great places to make connections and get leads on potential employers that may be a good fit for you. If you don’t stand out from the crowd on paper, making an in-person introduction can serve you by demonstrating your professional demeanor and communication skills.

But you’ll need more preparation than a shower and a cup of coffee the morning of.  Job fair attendees are much more likely to succeed if they do their homework before heading out the door. Besides the talking points in your pocket, with the right preparation you’ll come armed with a job-hunting secret weapon —confidence.

Valarie LeSeure, a counselor at the Illinois WorkNet Center, gave us some recommendations on getting the most out of a job fair.

In the days before
Job fairs will publish a list of the employers that will be in attendance. LeSeure suggests reviewing the list and doing your research on participating employers.

Find out as much as you can about the employers and show them how much you know. You should arm yourself with a working knowledge of what they do, the kind of employees they’re looking for, and the positions they have open. Even if a position is not advertised, you may read about a department that is expanding or a current employee who is retiring.

Use that research to customize your resume for each employer. Target that company or potential job description, if you can. A generic resume will do, says Le Seure, but do not include every job you’ve ever had. You don’t want the employer to rule you out, before you even get an interview. The goal is to hook an interview —not acquaint them with your entire life history.

Practice your introduction or “elevator speech.” An elevator speech is a creative, concise introduction that can be communicated in the time it takes to ride an elevator, according to Muse.com, a career website. It should contain the pieces of information you most want to convey about yourself, with the most important parts first, in case you get cut off. Construct one by making a list of the most important things you want to convey about yourself – such as your education, achievements and goals, make it specific, and then edit it down. Record yourself speaking the words at home, listen and revise or ask for constructive feedback from friends.

The day of the career fair
LeSeure suggests trying out your speech on the employers you are less interested in first, and then, as you gain more confidence, move up to the employers you are really targeting. If there are not a lot of employers hiring at the event, utilize it as a confidence-building exercise. Your attitude and confidence are key factors in landing a position.

Bring several copies of your resume, but be prepared for some employers not to want it. Though they may ask you to fill out an application online instead, they are not necessarily brushing you off. Sometimes this is simply a corporate policy, in place to manage data on applicants. The employer may still be taking note of you.  

If you ask questions of the employer, make sure they are thoughtful ones. You should already know what the company does, and inquiring as to salary and benefits is inappropriate. Your questions should show what you have already learned, and probe deeper. Good topics to address are the skills this employer values and current issues facing the organization.

Etiquette at job fairs is paramount, LeSeure reminds us. Do not monopolize an employer’s time or show impatience when waiting in long lines. Employers are able to observe job-seekers, how they are behaving and interacting with other job-seekers. Your behavior matters, even when you’re not speaking to them directly.

At the end of a conversation, ask for a business card. You will need the employer’s contact information to send a quick email in the days following the event. You should thank them for their time and reiterate your interest in their organization.  

Ann Farrar, a frequent contributor to Illinois Times, has a master’s degree in mental health counseling.

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