How to Get the Most Out of Job Fairs
The great thing about job fairs is having a whole bunch of employers under one roof, not to mention meeting recruiters who can answer your questions about career tracks and application procedures at their companies.
The not-so-great thing is how overwhelming they can be – too many companies to meet, and too many other job-seekers fighting for recruiters’ attention.
If you want to get the most out of these brief windows of opportunity (not to mention a bag full of freebies), you’re going to need a plan of attack. Here are some helpful strategies you can use!
Watch the clock: Plan your time at the fair!
Some job fairs last one or two days, but there also plenty that just last an afternoon – particularly the kinds often held on campus. The tight timeframe means that the popular recruiters will be swamped by hordes of eager students, so you’ll need to have a game plan to get ahead of the crowd.
Here are some tips to help you plan your time:
- Check the fair’s venue, its opening and closing times, and which employers will be attending. The list will normally be released well in advance, so all this information should be readily available.
- Think about what you want to get out of this fair. Did you want to research an industry sector? Are you trying to learn about companies or find out about job or work experience opportunities with them? Is your goal to get insights into their application processes, or do you just want to network?
- Identify the employers you definitely want to visit. If you can get hold of a floor plan in advance, then plan your route around the fair.
- Find out if there are scheduled talks or presentations. Decide beforehand which talks you’d like to attend or if you’re ok just skipping them all.
- Update your résumé. This is not just for job applications! Your résumé can be a useful tool to refer to when talking about your skills and experiences with recruiters.
Pro tip: Employer presentations on applications, interviews, and assessment centres will normally fill up very quickly! Take note of their times, and get yourself into the queue early.
Don’t be a noob: Research employers before you go
Many students often make the mistake of going into job fairs “blind”. Yes, job fairs are there for you to research employers. However, the point is for you to ask recruiters about key information that you can’t get from their company website.
Recruiters will be busy, and your time with them may be quite short. Prior research means you can skip the basics and jump straight in (Plus, you’ll also create a much better impression to boot!). Here’s the absolute minimum of research you should do beforehand:
- Visit employers’ websites to find out what they do (i.e. which markets or industries they operate in, products or services offered) and to learn about their graduate roles, required skills and qualifications, and application processes.
- Come up with questions to ask recruiters. These can be about the recruitment process at their company, the skills and qualities they look for, new industry trends, etc. Jot these down on a notepad and take them with you.
- In the days leading up to the fair, scan the news headlines and relevant industry news websites to stay up to date on happenings in the sectors that interest you. Update your research and questions as necessary.
Look the part: Presentation matters!
Ask a bunch of people about how you should dress at job fairs, and you’ll get a whole bunch of answers. Some will tell you to arm yourself for battle with a nice suit. Others may say that smart casual is the way to go.
Then again, it also depends on your profession – the dress code at a law job fair can be very different from an engineering one!
As a rule, smart casual is usually fine. However, being clean and tidy is vital! It’s important that you feel comfortable in your own clothes, while still looking professional. Still, how you dress is only half the story. The other half is how you carry yourself in front of recruiters.
Here are some tips on what you should be doing:
- Smile! A warm grin is far more appealing than a face frozen in fear.
- Be confident and enthusiastic, and get to the point. However, remain polite and courteous.
- Be clear about your selling points – your skills, qualities, or prior experiences.
- Be ready to ask those questions you've prepared earlier.
- Arrive early to avoid the crowd, and to reach recruiters before they get tired.
- Visit one or two other companies first before seeking out your top priority employer – this will help you “warm up” and build your confidence.
- Don’t hunt in a pack! If you came with friends, split up to make more efficient use of your time. You want to show recruiters that you are a capable, independent individual.
- Don’t take your parents or any other family member with you – ever! It's just as embarrassing for you as it is for the recruiter!
Pro tip: Prepare and practice an “elevator pitch”. This doesn’t have to be a hard sell of your skills, just a simple, brief introduction of yourself.
For example: “Hi, my name is John and I’m a final year engineering student at Singapore University. I’m really keen on business, though, and I’d like to use this interest in a technical field. I’m curious about a career in supply-chain management, and I noticed from your website that you have a supply-chain scheme for engineers. Can you tell me more about it and what it involves?”
Make notes for future reference
Make sure you write down the names and contact details of people you meet. Also try to record any new or useful information you pick up.
After leaving an employer’s booth, move to one side and take a moment to record your thoughts:
- What makes this organisation special?
- From your first impressions, would you be happy working with these people?
- Did you find out anything that made you feel you would fit in? How would you be able to use your strengths within this organisation?
If taking notes sounds like a pain, rest assured there’s a good reason for this! You can refer to contacts you made and information you learned at careers fairs in job applications, or at interviews.
Pro tip: Job fairs are good opportunities to practice basic interview techniques. Recruiters at fairs will normally ask you typical interview questions... but in a much less formal setting: “What do you know about us?” “Why do you want to work for us?” “Why are you attracted to a career in this industry?” etc.