A growing number of organizations are hosting job fairs; events whereby a number of employers agree to all meet at one central location and meet with the unemployed with the intent of hiring many of them. Really? That’s not what always happens. Go in with that expectation when you are out of work, and you might leave bitterly disappointed.
One of the first things I would recommend when you see a poster or notice for a Job Fair, is to look for contact information and make a phone call. Ask some questions prior to building up any assumptions and expectations. While the poster might allude to hiring taking place, read it carefully. If pre-registration is required, you must call and register or you’re going to be possibly excluded from even getting in. How awkward and upsetting would that be to show up with copies of your resume only to not even be allowed entrance to the Job Fair at all. Ouch…
So phoning just to register is step one. While registering, ask your questions. What do you need to know to make the experience meaningful to you? Well let’s start with how many employers will be there? From what industry and what specific companies? Is the intent of the employers to actually accept resumes and meet 1:1 with applicants to set up job interviews at a later date? Are the employers just showcasing themselves as potential employers but not taking resumes or hiring at this time? Will employers be conducting on-the-spot interviews or not? How many resumes you bring depends on answers to questions you ask. Ask no questions and don’t be surprised or disappointed with the outcome.
If it seems obvious to you that at a Job Fair, of course the Employers would be accepting applications for employment, you’re forgiven for your ignorance. I thought at one time this was the case also; I was wrong. Recently in my neck of the woods there was a Job Fair which I promoted to many unemployed people, and they called and registered and attended. All those I had suggested go who actually did came back to report that they had gone with resumes in hand only to be told that the employers were showcasing their companies but none were taking resumes at that time, just increasing their image while talking about the kinds of jobs they had in their various companies. Rather misleading.
Another organization about six months ago announced they were having a Job Fair. As it turned out, what they were really doing was getting unemployed people to give them their contact information and trying to get them to sign on for workshops they offered to help the unemployed. There were no actual employers present at all. It was like a recruiting fair for that job assistance organization. Their flyer had been extremely well crafted to the point where in retrospect, it could be interpreted differently but was not technically wrong, just very ambiguous and misleading.
When you do go to a Job Fair, dress for it as you would for a Job Interview, taking some time to pay attention to your hair, make up, clothing and gathering all the necessary documents you’ll need like resumes and cover letters, profiles, etc. You may want to check on the number of employers present and then exceed that number by 10% in determining how many resumes to bring. Acquiring their names and doing some homework ahead of time via research would allow you to add key phrases and interject the right vocabulary into your resumes. This would give you an edge and reassure you if you check-in at the door and look around the corner to see 549 job candidates milling about. Here’s betting that almost all of them have multiple copies of a single resume to pass around.
Look at things for a moment from any one of those employers perspectives not your own. What’s in this for them? If they just want to leave with a pile of resumes, they can get that 5 days a week from just putting a small ad in a paper which is cheaper than paying the salary of staff to sit at a table and take them for five or six hours. So it’s got to be more than that. They will of course get to see you, and they’ll make a quick judgement on your appearance, your confidence or lack thereof.
Still from their perspective, how are they going to remember the people who struck them as a possible candidate from those who they took a resume from but have no interest in hiring? Well they all have their tricks but I’ll share just one from an employer who attends these fairs. This fellow was telling me that he smiles at everyone, treats them the same, takes a resume from each candidate who gives him one, but he discreetly folds one of the upper corners of the resumes he is interested in and leaves the others unfolded that he isn’t. Later back at the office, he’ll separate those resumes into two piles and only look at the ones with the folds; the rest are in his recycling bin and not even looked at. That’s how selective an employer can afford to be in a tight market with few jobs and many applicants.
By all means go to Job Fairs after registering and asking some pointed questions so your expectations match up with the reality of the event. Clean clothes, good breath, organized papers, smiles, and good interpersonal skills will go a long way!