How to Conquer a Job Fair

Treat job fairs like you treat dating and your success rate will rise.

Mike Asked: Any resume advice for a job fair? I am attending one and would like to know what should the resume look like.

With job fairs, as with dating, flexibility is the key. You wouldn't talk and act the same way around every date you would go on, and your persona at a job fair should be equally as adaptable. You'll be meeting with a wide variety of companies and recruiters, each hiring for specific jobs. As a result, you want to be able to adapt to every opportunity you might have at the fair.

Do some research

These days, first dates don't usually happen without some research, whether that be observing the person from across the room, asking friends about the person, or doing some Facebook and social media stalking. The first step for a job fair is the same. Research the job fair before it happens. Most job fares have a website where they promote the fair and also list the companies that will be in attendance. Read through the list and identify companies that are priorities for you to meet with.

Then, head over to each company's website and look up what job opening the prospective employers have. Identify the jobs that you would want to get, are qualified to do, and are geographically desirable for you.

Identify your "types"

If you're like me, you hate it when you're asked "what's your type?" Most people don't have a 'type,' they have 'types' that they are attracted to. For the job fair you, want to identify the few 'types' of jobs that you would want to pursue. As you researched job postings, patterns of similarity should start to have emerge, as many companies might be hiring for similar positions. Using these patterns, group jobs into types based on the job description and the necessary skills. For each type, identify the experience, education, skills, and characteristics that will be important for you to highlight when going after them.

Adapt yourself to each type

When dating, people adapt themselves to the type of person they are with. They are still the same person, but they emphasize their interests and the parts of their personality that are match the other person. You'll want to do the same for the job fair by creating custom resumes for each type you found. 

At this point, you might have 2-5 job types that cover 90% of the companies and job opportunities at the job fair. Using these job types, you can create custom resumes for each one. Each resume should be modified to emphasize the skills, education, and experience that is important to that job type. Creating these custom resumes will allow you to highlight exactly what the employer is looking for.

Don't go straight for 'the close'

There are a ton of dating 'programs' out there that suggest you go straight for the close when you first meet someone. This doesn't work in dating, and it won't work when looking for employment at a job fair. When you first meet a recruiter, don't start by handing them your resume (which is what most everyone does). Doing that makes the conversation awkward and may make you look desperate. Handing them the resume at the outset also means you may give them the wrong custom resume.

Instead, start a conversation with them about their company and what they are looking for. Ask clarifying questions to try and discover what skills, experiences, and education they would get excited about. This detective work will not only show you are interested in the company, but will also allow you to present yourself in a much stronger and more strategic way.

Wait for them to ask for it

Ideally, you want them to ask you for your resume, rather than you handing it to them. Them asking for it will increase the importance of your resume in their mind because they've already decided they want it. When that happens, pull out the resume that most closely matches what they are looking for.

Demonstrate value

Just like in dating, you have to sell yourself if you want the recruiter to remember you when you call them for a 'date.' After you've done your detective work and found out all you can about the company and the position, you can transition to selling yourself. If the recruiter still hasn't asked you for your resume, now is the opportunity to give it to them. Pull out the correct custom resume for that recruiter based on your conversation.

When you hand them your resume, start talking about the experiences, skills, and education that you have that align with what they are looking for. Then use your resume as a visual aid to what you are talking about. Integrating your resume into the conversation will bring it to life, and will help you to stand out from all the other candidates.

Don't wait for them to ask you out

After the job fair, follow up with all the recruiters you talked with. Send each an e-mail reminding them of your meeting and what you specifically talked about. If you talked about anything non-work related, make sure to reference that conversation in your e-mail. In the e-mail, summarize your skills, education, and experiences that are relevant to the job they have. Then ask them for a time that you can come in and talk further about the opportunity to see if you and the job are a good fit.

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