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Finding Opportunities through Local Job Fairs

Local job fairs provide an invaluable opportunity to meet employers and recruiters face to face and present yourself as a capable, motivated candidate for employment. To make the most of the event, approach it with a strategy in mind.

Getting Started
If you're looking for work, Job fairs offer valuable opportunities. Whether you're refining your personal skills, networking with employers and prospective employees alike, or landing the job, you will benefit from approaching the next event in your area with a strategy in mind.

If you're in the employment market, you've likely filled out dozens, maybe hundreds, of online applications. In a world of online hiring, you may wonder why it makes sense to go to something as old-fashioned as a job fair.

Opportunities to Present Yourself
Attending events gives you an opportunity to meet employers face to face, and to emphasize qualities like enthusiasm and personal communication skills, which may be difficult to show in an online application. Use the event as though it were the first call for an interview. Whether you are there to land work or for other purposes, prepare as though this is your big break.

Refine your resume - You know the rules, and they still apply. Prepare an error-free, attractive, 1- or at the most 2-page resume. Don't fold it. Don't put it in an envelope. Create different versions that highlight different experiences. One version may call attention to your community service while another may call attention to education or work experience or longevity for a single employer. Emphasize your experiences and accomplishments. Print the resume on high-quality paper. Take several copies with you. Depending on your field, you may need to invest in a leather portfolio for your resumes.

Finalize your portfolio - You may get the rare opportunity to present your portfolio directly to an employer. A sharp portfolio has your resume, a list of references, and samples of your best work.

Dress the part - Dress as though you're already working. Khakis, a skirt, a suit, a polo shirt—think about how people in your chosen field look. And remember the shoes. Don't expect to repeat Will Smith's experience in The Pursuit of Happyness and land the opportunity of a lifetime in an undershirt. Recruiters are trained to notice details. Have a nice pen (and keep track of it).

Practice your pitch - Best case scenario; you'll get to speak one-on-one with 5-10 top employers. You'll have 2-3 minutes to market yourself, starting with a 1-minute pitch. Describe the work you do, your years of experience, your expertise, what you hope to find, and the value you can add to the company/organization. Practice before you go.

Be memorable - A common question you will face is, "What are you here for today?" Craft a distinct answer that communicates your value to the company. Follow up with "What are you looking for in candidates today?" or "What do I need to do to get a second interview with your firm?"

Opportunities to Network
Sales opportunities dominate many events. If you're not looking for work in sales, you may feel like your visit was a waste. Not so. It's acceptable to ask the representative, "Who can I contact for a position in my field?"

Network with other participants. Be likable. Be someone they would want to work alongside. Share leads and strategies together.

In addition to employers, professional organizations set up booths. It's always worth stopping by and asking questions.

Opportunities for a Hire
A percentage of attendees at a job fair are there for the serious business of landing employment that will advance their career. If that's you, prepare with a singlemindedness that reflects the importance of the event.

Don't expect to get hired on the spot. You're after a second interview. Avoid getting screened out.

Remember your purpose. You are not there to browse. You're working. Arrive early. Go alone. Turn off the phone. Take a bottle of water, but avoid eating, snacking, and chewing gum in the recruiting hall.

Career officers offer these tips:

Pre-register - Employers prescreen applicants. They make notes on whom they want to meet. You won't make their first list of top candidates if you don't preregister.

Research - Take a serious look at the employers who are registered. Prioritize 5-10 employers you want to see in the morning. Research those companies so that you are prepared to discuss products, services, customers/clients, and kinds of positions available.

Plan and update your plan - Sketch out a tentative schedule of whom you would like to talk with first, second, and so on. Consider whether you will revisit those employers in the afternoon. When you arrive, check for employers that did not register. If there's a company you want to add to your list, do so. Also, look at the layout of the tables. Modify your original plan to move in a sensible order and keep you from running around the facility. Before moving on to the next candidate, check your notes and recall important details.

Interview and keep moving - Avoid monopolizing the time of the recruiter. Get to the 5-10 top employers on your list. Respect their time. If you have a lull, visit other employers. Be prepared to fill out applications on the spot. Get business cards from recruiters. After each interview, make a few notes of key points discussed so that when you talk again, you recall the first interview accurately.

Follow up - You can set yourself apart from the masses by sending a thank you email, voice mail message, or letter. Offer thanks. Mention a point from your interview. If you are sending a letter, consider enclosing a resume and business card.

Finding Local Fairs
Your best tip is to stay connected to the local employment market. Read your local paper.

Additionally, visit a career database such as National Career Fairs or CareerOneStop by American Job Center. In addition to providing location-specific information about career events, these sites have tips for making the most of your visit to a fair.

A visit to a local employment event doesn't always feel like time well spent, but the growth and experience can make a difference. You got out and talked with people in your chosen profession. There's no hiding behind a screen at a public event. It's your chance to grow, to network, to get hired.