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The Realities of Job Fairs: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

by Brent O’Bryan, SPHR  2/21/2012
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Whether you have a job and are looking to make a change or are currently unemployed, job fairs can be a great way to meet with recruiters. But, they can also be intimidating to the uninitiated. With some job fairs attracting thousands of applicants, it’s important to arm yourself with a plan of action before you arrive. Think of attending a job fair as analogous to a visit to Disney World. Do you want to spend valuable time waiting in a line to get on a random ride you may or may not like, or do you want to do some advance research, get a “FASTPASS,” and spend time enjoying the park? You will get the most out of a job fair when you put in the time to make it work for you.

The following tips and techniques for job fair navigation can help you prepare for a successful experience before, during and after a job fair.

The Good

  • Knowledge is power. Smart candidates take the time to thoroughly research the job fairs they attend. They find out what companies will be on the premises and decide which companies are of interest to them. They then read as much as they can about the targeted companies.

  • Demonstrate aptitude. Savvy job fair attendees focus on how their experience benefits the company and offer tangible insight on how the skills they have garnered translate to on-the-job benefits for the employer.

  • Presentation counts. Even if you are applying for a position that will likely require a uniform or carpenter pants, wear a freshly pressed suit and comfortable yet professional shoes, and make sure that hair and nails are freshly groomed. Savvy recruiters look for long-term potential.

  • Manners matter. Successful job fair applicants are generally conservative when interacting with hiring personnel. Never assume that Mr. Fred Jones wants to be called "Fred." Address him as “Mr. Jones” unless he says otherwise.

  • Link up for best results. Many companies are using LinkedIn to research and find candidates. Many successful job fair applicants connect with their recruiters on LinkedIn after their initial meeting.

  • Traditional paper resumes still rule. Successful job fair applicants should bring plenty of one-page, concise and informative resumes with them in a neat briefcase or portfolio.

The Bad

  • Asking about salary and benefits. Few recruiters will want to move forward with an applicant whose initial questions revolve around salary, benefits and vacation and personal day allotment.

  • Resume typos. Proofread -- and proof again -- a resume. Typos and misspellings can undermine an applicant’s ability to get interviews and secure a job. The resume should be an error-free showcase of your experience, skills and capabilities.

  • Twittering away. While a professional, updated LinkedIn profile is always a plus to HR professionals, a Facebook page with lewd postings or a Twitter account detailing compromising personal information, can be a liability.

The Ugly

  • Gum chewing. It happens more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes, the gum chewing applicant is a cigarette smoker who is trying to cover their tracks. Whatever the reason, there is no place for gum chewing on the job search circuit. Likewise, munching on chips or engaging in any other manner of food consumption in front of a recruiter is strictly off-limits.

  • Hygiene matters. Meeting with recruiters is not the time to forget to brush your teeth, take a shower or groom your nails. Being remembered due to body odor or bad breath is not a ticket to employment satisfaction.

  • Employment stalker. At every job fair, there are applicants who fail to recognize the social cues that their interview is over. They linger at the booth, or return to the recruiter again and again during the fair. Or they send daily e-mails to the recruiter asking for progress reports. While appropriate follow-up is important, harassment will not land you your dream job.

Job fairs sometimes offer workshops on any variety of topics related to employment. Take the time to attend these free events to bone up on skills and information. Be sure to judiciously follow up with the recruiters you’ve made a good connection with at the job fair. Assemble the business cards you amassed from human resource professionals and fellow attendees and link up to them on LinkedIn. Recruiters appreciate receiving a follow-up thank you e-mail which signals your interest in contributing to the organization.

Brent O’Bryan, SPHR, is vice president, Learning and Development at AlliedBarton Security Services,, the industry’s premier provider of highly trained security personnel to many industries including commercial real estate, higher education, health care, residential communities, chemical/petrochemical, government, manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions, and shopping centers.

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