5 Tips for Successful Career Fair Networking

Career fairs are not a sure fire way of getting hired, however for someone who is looking to take the next step in their career they can be very helpful. They allow you the opportunity to meet one on one with company representatives that could potentially be responsible for you getting hired. While going to a career fair can help you take that next step in your career, if you aren’t prepared to successfully network you could be wasting your time. Just showing up is not enough, you need to go out of your way to make sure that you find success when attending a career fair.

Here are 5 tips on how to find that success:

1. Network, don’t interview

Attending a career fair usually will give you direct access to the first point of contact of the companies hiring team. Whether it’s a recruiter, HR Rep, Hiring Manager or someone else; this person is usually the first point of contact to begin the interview process.

Your goal should not be to try and get hired right on the spot. You want to introduce yourself to this person, tell them a little about your background and most importantly make sure to get their contact information. You want to look at being hired like building a house, it all starts with a strong foundation. The career fair is the opportunity to start that foundation.

Once you meet that person you can then follow up with a call or email with your information and why you would like to be considered for their opening. Treat this meeting as an opening to discussions around your background and not the interview that lands you the job.

2. Be prepared

You only get one chance at a first impression. When you attend a career fair you need to make sure you are well dressed, have plenty of copies of your resume on hand and are ready with a quick pitch of who you are and what you do. That last part seems self-explanatory, but believe me there have been times where I have met prospective candidates who need a little help on clearly explaining to me what they do. If my first impression of you is not a positive one that will reflect when it comes time to selecting you as a potential candidate.

3. Do your research

While attending a career fair is a great way to learn about new companies, you should also be researching the companies in attendance beforehand. More times than not the organization hosting the career fair will release a list of companies in attendance prior to the event.

Find the companies who will be attending and research them. The first thing you should do is go to their careers page on their company website and find out which companies are hiring in your field. These are the companies you should be spending your time networking with.

Some career fairs can be very large scale and as a result you may not get to meet every company in attendance. You don’t want to miss out on a company who is hiring in your field because you spent too much time sorting through the companies that will never hire someone with your skills.

4. Be selective

Along with doing your research you also must be able to identify the companies who hire in your field and those that don’t. If you go to a niche career fair this most likely will not be a problem. However a majority of career fairs are not specialized. If you are a Java programmer it doesn’t make sense for you to spend time at a nursing facilities booth.

Don’t be afraid of walking away realizing you aren’t a fit for that company. Countless times I have had candidates try and explain to me how their background matches what I am looking for, when that is just not true. You should not feel like you need to be a fit with every company in attendance. Be comfortable with acknowledging when you are not a fit, thanking the person for their time and walking away. Your time is valuable and there are companies out there that better match your needs.

5. Stand out

A company representative will see hundreds of potential candidates at just one career fair. As much as I hate to admit it, eventually it all becomes white noise. In fact, as I file away resumes I receive before getting to the next person I always wonder if candidates get worried that they are becoming faceless names in the crowd.

You need to stand out in some way. Whether that is dressing nicer than the standard dress code asks for or highlighting career honors and awards before your resume. Whatever it may be you need to do something that helps you stand out from the crowd. The examples are all specific to your career, but just realize that you are probably one of a hundred computer programmers I will meet, what makes you stand out?

Image credit: COD Newsroom

By Chadd Balbi

Chadd Balbi is a seasoned recruiting professional with extensive experience in full life cycle recruiting and business development in both Corporate and Staffing environments. His emphasis is on strong recruiting, business development and client relationship focus. Specializing in the IT staffing industry. Follow Chadd on Twitter @CFBRecruiter.