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Ask Donna: Are job fairs worth the effort?

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career fair cattle call

Are job fairs just a cattle call?

Dear Donna:

Every now and then, I see a career fair coming to my area. While they all promote the fact that there will be “decision makers” present from top companies, I am not certain that these job fairs are worth the effort. It seems to me that they are a cattle call where I have to compete with tons of other job seekers, or that the employers tend to be the lures for “starting your own business” as a financial advisor or insurance agent. Even when I do get to talk to one of my target companies, it feels like their recruiter just tells me to “apply on the website.”

So, are these job fairs really worth the effort?

  • Time Crunched in Lakewood

 

Hi Time Crunched:

I feel your pain! Having sat on both sides of the conference booth table – as the recruiter and the job seeker – some of your observations are true, but that is not the whole story. In fact, career fairs can be beneficial, depending on your circumstances and the type of job fair it is.

  1. Types of career fairs

Fact: not all job fairs are created equal. To determine if this particular career fair fits with your job search, it is helpful to understand what you are considering.

University Sponsored: held at the college, these career fairs are set up by the institution’s career services department for their students and graduates. Because of the relationships developed by career services, these often lead to valuable conversations with the recruiters about both jobs and internships.

Industry-Specific Fairs: some niche industries, such as IT, luxury private service, aerospace, or other technical fields, have career fairs that are organized by outside entities that then sell the booth space to the different employers. Because the employers know that the fair is designed to attract top talent in their space, it is more likely for the candidates to make a quality connection with the recruiters. One such organization is Expo Experts: http://www.expoexpertsllc.com/.

Sometimes you will also see these fairs as part of the annual convention for the niche industry, just like the Domestic Estate Management Association (DEMA) organizes every year: http://demaconvention.com/index.php/annual-convention/career-day-job-fair

General Job Fairs: these tend to be the “cattle call” that most frustrated job seekers thing of when considering a career fair. These could be organized from any multitude of sources, such as the local business magazine, the county workforce centers, or even third parties. Sometimes these job fairs may be specifically targeting those who are coming out of the military. These also tend to have the greatest variety of employers, including the 100% commission sales jobs, the military branches, and the “be your own boss” opportunities.

  1. When to go

Job fairs can be time consuming. When considering a specific fair, take a look at the participating employers; this is usually listed on the fair’s website. If you are seeing companies and recruiters that you really want to meet face-to-face, make the effort to suit up and show up. If you only see one or two on your list, you might want to consider a more beneficial networking effort, such as contacting those same recruiters and managers through LinkedIn.

  1. What the recruiters are doing

I agree that one of the worst practices that has emerged in the modern career fair is recruiters telling job seekers to “go apply on the website.” Some companies won’t even take your resume anymore! So why did the employer bother to show up?

Recruiters do value meeting the job seeker. If someone comes across as a top candidate, they will make a note of his or her name and credentials. However, this is also true for screening out candidates.  I have been to many job fairs over the years where the recruiters will be nice to someone’s face, and then the moment the candidate walks away, mark the resume as a big “no.” Therefore it is extremely important to put your best foot forward when attending the fair.

  1. Making the right impression

To avoid that big “no,” pay attention to these job fair best practices. First of all, if this is an industry-specific job fair, try to reach out to the recruiters BEFORE the fair itself. Then when you meet the recruiter face-to-face you will be familiar to them. Next, dress the part. A career fair is really a JOB INTERVIEW. Even if they don’t sit down with you individually, that initial 60-second introduction is the same as a screening interview. Be sure that you are wearing proper business attire for your industry. Be sure to bring multiple copies of your resume and business card. Even if they don’t take the paper copy, you need to look prepared.

Finally, follow up. If you don’t bother to send an email or LinkedIn invitation to the people you contacted – which includes other job fair attendees, not just the recruiters or company representatives – then you really did just waste your time.

Good Luck!

Donna Shannon

 

Got a question for Donna? Just email your question to april@personaltouchcareerservices.com

About the author: Donna Shannon is not the feel-good career coach you might expect.  For over eight years, she worked as the grumpy recruiter who never let your resume get through to the hiring manager. Since 2004, she has been teaching effective job search strategies to bypass the corporate guard dogs just like her.  Her book, “How to Get a Job Without Going Crazy” is in its 2nd edition. Through her consulting business, The Personal Touch Career Services, Donna offers top quality resumes, coaching, and specialized training for job seekers across the country. 

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About the Author:

Since 2004, Donna has been teaching job seekers of all levels effective job search strategies. In 2009, she published her book "Get a Job Without Going Crazy: a Practical Guide to Your Employment Search." Donna is based in Denver, and has presented workshops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. She continues to work with job seekers across the country.
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