Between the upcoming college/university career fairs and all the other job fairs happening throughout the area, the networking calendars are quickly filling up for the next couple months. Having attended many of these during my years as a Recruiter, I can tell you that a few people really know what their doing when they go to one, but most make a few mistakes that can really hurt them. With this in mind, today we’re going to talk about seven simple strategies that will make you go from zero to hero at your next job fair.
1. Review the Employers Scheduled to Attend and Make a Game Plan
Before you walk into the doors, you should already know who you want to talk to. To ensure that you’re not wasting your time or theirs, you should learn some basic things about the employers by doing some preliminary research:
- What does the company do? Who are their primary customers?
- What jobs are they hiring for? Do these jobs match what you’re seeking?
- What industry are they in? Is this industry growing? Is this the type of industry you want to be in?
- What are the future prospects for the company? Are they doing better or worse than their competitors?
- What are some of the main issues that they are facing? Is there a way that you might be able to help them address this?
- What is the company culture like? Are they known for treating and paying their employees well? How do they treat their customers?
With this information in mind, you’ll be able to determine which employers you really want to talk to and filter out everyone else. This not only saves you time, it also makes you come across to the employer as someone who is knowledgeable.
Where can you find this information? Their company website is a good place to start. But also do a general Google search to see if they’ve been in the news recently, look them up on other websites like GlassDoor to see what current and past employees say about them, look at what is being said about them by their customers on Yelp, and social media sites are also a good source of information.
I can’t count how many times I’ve had people come up to the table I was behind, asking me what my company did. That’s basic research. How impressed do you think I was with this person?
2. Make a Short Elevator Pitch and Practice It
At some point in the conversation with a Recruiter or Hiring Manager, you’ll be asked to talk about yourself. The worst thing you can do is stumble out of the blocks with a bunch of uhs and ums. To prevent yourself from feeling embarrassed that you didn’t even know what to say about yourself, my recommendation is to have something prepared.
To make your elevator pitch have the most power, you want to make sure that you are somewhat specific on what you are seeking and hitting on your “key selling points” that relate to the job or career you wish to get into. In thinking about your key selling points, ask yourself, “What are the three or four things that will set me apart from others?” These could be a combination of:
- Highly sought after skills
- Education or certifications
- Relevant experience
- Personal strengths
- Work habits and attitudes
Here are a couple examples of an elevator pitch for a customer service role.
I am problem solver, which is why I’ve been in customer service for the previous five years at XYZ, Inc. It was there that I learned how to identify our customer’s concerns and underlying problems so I could address them head on. With my communication, the customer would know that I understand their issue and are assured that I’m going to take care of it for them. During my tenure there, I took several training courses that enhanced my customer service and communication skills. I also was given the chance to learn our customer management database and used the information in it to create our team’s reports. I’m a quick learner and a team player. I don’t believe that something is “outside my job description.” I’ll be the first to volunteer for anything that will help out my team or the company. Based on what I learned about your company and the customer service position you are hiring for, I think I’d be a great match for what you need.
I’m looking for a good opportunity to increase my customer service experience and responsibilities. It’s something I’ve found I’m very good at and enjoy. I dig deeper than most to figure out what the underlying issue is. For example, one time, at XYZ, Inc., a customer called in who was really upset with the widget he’d bought from us a little over a year ago. It was just out of warranty and he couldn’t return it. I asked him a few questions about what happened just before it stopped working. He said he just gotten an updated operating system on his computer that he was using our product on. That made me wonder if it wasn’t this update that was causing the issue and not our product. I told him I’d do some research and get back to him. As it turned out, it was indeed a problem with the update and I found out we had a patch that would fix his problem if he downloaded it. I called him back and explained what was going on and how we would be able to help. He went from angry customer ready to bad mouth us to all his friends, to a more loyal customer, all because I took an extra step for him. That’s what I like to do. Based on what I learned about your company and the customer service you provide, I think I’d be a great addition.
Both elevator pitches work, but the second is better because it tells a good story and shows his or key selling points: (1) customer service skills, (2) research skills, (3) dedication, and (4) understanding the importance of customer loyalty. If I met someone like this, who knew what their biggest strengths were and what they wanted to do to help my company, I’d certainly keep their resume and follow up with them when I returned to the office. Why? Because most people stumble and bumble their way through the most important part of going to a networking event: selling themselves! If you aren’t clear about why I should hire you, how do you expect me to be clear about it? How do you expect me to sell you to the hiring manager? Give me something to work with!
When I say practice, I mean have your bullet points memorized and then work on your delivery. A lot of people have the words down pat, but it sounds robotic. The content is good, but it comes off like a canned speech. There’s nothing natural about it.
It’s also apparent that they didn’t practice their elevator pitch in front of a mirror, recorded it on video, or practiced with a friend. If they did, they’d know how to use their body in a way that enhances, instead of distracts, from the message. Many people either don’t use any gestures, which looks strange, or use over-exaggerated gestures that I have to duck out of the way from. It’s best to make sure that your body and gestures are open, stay below the shoulders, and don’t get into the other person’s personal space.
3. Pick Out a Professional Outfit
When it comes to college career fairs, I can appreciate why students prefer to just show up dressed the same way as they do to their classes. It’s easy and you don’t feel out of place while you walk around on campus. But if you want to stand out from your peers, you better step up your game and dress for success. This happens a little less often at other job fairs, but I see it more often than one would expect. People, for one reason or another, don’t like dressing up for things.
You have to understand, dressing well is a sign of respect to the other person you’re networking with. If you come in something professional, it shows me that you’re ready for business. If you don’t, it sends me the signal that you’re not really serious. Recruiters and Hiring Managers only want people who are serious about wanting to work for them. Beyond the message your sending, being well-dressed also improves your level of confidence. Confidence is important in this setting.
So what counts as “professional?”
For men, at a minimum you should dress conservatively in a dress shirt, tie, slacks, dress socks, dress shoes, and a belt. A suit is better, but if you don’t have that right now, this basic outfit suffices.
For women, at a minimum you should wear a conservative blouse, skirt or slacks, and closed toed pumps. Wearing a complimentary jacket or business suit is better, but you can get away with the minimum and look good. Keep the jewelry and other accessories to a minimum and make sure that whatever you do decide to wear goes with the rest of your outfit.
I understand there is a cost involved in all this, but in the long-term, it’s worth it. To save money, be diligent in your shopping: scour the internet for good deals, shop in the outlet stores that are selling last season’s lines, or even go to a few thrift stores – they sometimes have clothes with their tags still on. Also find a good tailor who can make you’re new clothes flatter you in the best way possible.
4. Bring Enough Resumes on High Quality Paper
It’s surprising how many people run out of their resume before they leave the job fair. Most of the time, this is due to the fact that they didn’t have a game plan going in and started off visiting more employers than they were prepared for. If you know which employers you intend to visit, you should have at least three resumes for each table. Why? Because more often than not, there is more than one person at a table and you want to give your document to each of them.
Additionally, don’t print your resume on standard printing paper. It seems like a small thing, but just like how you’re dressed, you want to give the employer the best impression possible. Spend the extra money and buy the resume paper at the local Office Depot. If you don’t have a good printer at home, get your resume printed at a print shop. Remember, your resume is your marketing material. You want it to look sharp!
Finally, use the version of your resume that is most relevant to the job you’re seeking with an employer. Again, this is where your initial planning comes in. You might have three versions of your resume for different roles. So for one employer, you might give them the first version of your resume because they hiring for one role that you’d be interested in. For another employer, you’ll give a different resume because they are hiring for something different that you’re also qualified for and would like to pursue. To keep them straight, put each resume in a different folder for each employer before the career fair and pull out the right one prior to arriving at their table. Even if you are looking at various opportunities, you’ll seem like you are conducting a more targeted job search to the Recruiter or Hiring Manager standing in front of you, which is the impression you should convey.
5. Go in with Confidence and a Smile
Because you’ve spent the time to prepare, you’re going to feel more confident. These kind of events can be a little stressful and nerve-wracking to be sure, but you’ll be able to control it because you have a plan. Having the right mindset and goals going into it should also help. What are some good goals to have regarding your next networking event? Here are a few to get your mind working:
Goal 1: Make connections and start professional relationships.
Goal 2: Practice your conversation skills and elevator pitch so you can discover what works and what doesn’t.
Goal 3: Plant seeds with employers about talking with you further.
Notice what’s missing? Your goal is not to get a job. Sure, eventually that’s where you would like it to lead. But in all honesty, most people don’t get hired from a one minute conversation at a career fair. It takes several more interactions. The purpose of these types of networking events is to make your first introduction to an employer and impress them enough that they want to get to know you further.
Do you feel confident that you can do this? I’m confident you can too.
6. Stick to Your Plan
Job and career fairs only last for so long. At most of the ones that I have attended, employers start to pack up and leave an hour or more before the event officially ends. Which is horrible for the person who arrives late and finds a bunch of empty tables.
So first of all, make sure that you arrive when they first open the doors. The most obvious advantage to this is that you’ll get to talk to everyone you planned to meet. But secondly, you’ll meet the Recruiter or Hiring Manager at the table while they are at their freshest and in the best mood. About mid-way through, people start getting tired and impatient. They’ve been standing and talking for a couple of hours straight. This is the point at which you’re least likely to have success.
Also, make sure that you stick to the plan you’ve made. It’s tempting to stray when the employers you most want to network with have long lines and the table nearby has a really short one. But remember, you’ve done your research and you’ve scouted out which companies you have the greatest interest in. If the company next door isn’t one of them, why use up valuable time and a copy of your resume on them? If the line is too long, go to the next employer on your list and come back later.
7. Follow Up
Before you walk away from the employer’s table, ask for his or her business card. In my experience as a Recruiter, it’s actually rare for someone to request this and even rarer for someone to use it to follow up with me later. So if you want to stand out from the rest of the crowd, this last strategy is really important.
But don’t just send an email. Be more personal than that. Send the person an actual thank you card. Thank him or her for their time in talking with you. Tell them you are excited about working on their team and why. Finally, use some of the information you gathered from them during your conversation to make one more selling point on why they should consider you.
At this point, you’ve firmly planted the seed and gave it a little water in hope that it grows. In a few weeks, call or email. Always stay professional. Always stay positive. In time, one of your little seeds might grow into an interview and then bloom into a job offer. And it’s all because you walked into the career fair with the right plan, the right outfit, the right sales delivery, and the right attitude.
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We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.
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