Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Get the most out of a career fair- (and I don't mean the most free swag the companies are giving away).

Over the last week or so I've been focused on bringing together companies for the inaugural University of Louisville Athletic Department Career Fair taking place on March 25th. During these conversations with HR directors & hiring managers I discovered employers find Job Fairs just as big a waste of time as your average participant. Think about your own experience at a Job Fair. If it was even remotely like mine you would have been better off just randomly submitting your resume to companies on monster while playing "Edward 40-hands" in your dorm room. These Job Fairs are set up to be absolute cattle calls "just stop in, see who's there" no focus no direction just companies & free stuff to entice you in the door. The fundamental flaw with the Job Fair approach is the focus on numbers not connection or engagement. Now I understand that with out numbers the participating companies are not going to be interested & if companies aren't interested then potential candidates will in turn not show. So you end up with this eastern philosophy "Yin & Yang" so to speak; if one side is out of balance the whole thing implodes. So how do you turn a Job Fair into a Career Fair making it mutually beneficial for both the candidates & the employers?

If you are a soon to be graduate or in a career transition looking to use the convenience of a Career Fair to help in your search, keep the following rules in mind at your next event & you may just score the career you are searching for (if you use these rules & the career fair is still a waste of time you can always revert back to plan B & just take every logo branded stress ball, mouse pad & thumb drive in sight).

* As Abraham Lincoln said, " If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree I'd spend six sharpening my axe". That's right a sharp axe is the first step (I'm speaking metaphorically here unless of course you are applying for a lumberjack position then please take Abe's quote literally). You need planning & direction to make this work. The worst thing you can do is stroll through casually & unprepared. Most career fairs will be posted online days if not weeks in advance. These postings will detail which companies will be in attendance & their booth locations. Map out which companies you want to visit first, research those company’s websites & read the position descriptions. Hit those companies first.

* "Act As If"- If you have ever seen the movie "Boiler Room" you probably remember the sales manager's (Ben Affleck) monologue. He begin each point with "Act as if"- Well the same is true here "Act as if you are going to an interview not a Career Fair. This means all aspects: Dress, attitude, presentation & practice.
* Dress- Yes I'm going to suggest you dress for the position you want. At this point you're probably thinking, "yeah I've heard that a hundred times" well; that's because it works. If you want to differentiate yourself from the casual participant, wear a suit. You will come across focused & mature. Now there is one caveat to this if the companies you have identified are the business casual type at least wear slacks & collared shirt. You are going to be meeting more than just the companies you identified & you will make a much stronger first impression.
* Attitude- you can have greatest resume or on the contrary a mediocre resume & your attitude will be the tiebreaker. If you come across unenthusiastic, smug or just a plain apathetic you won't get a second look. So put on a happy face, have a positive attitude. Look the recruiters in their eyes & smile.
* Presentation- have you ever been to one of those swanky- reservations 3 months in advance unpronounceable name type restaurants. Only to discover you could have paid 95% less at Taco Bell & received 95% more food. Why do you do this? Presentation! It's the dress the attitude the presentation that draws you in. So when you go to your next career fair focus on the presentation. Dress for the part, have the positive contagious attitude, walk tall with confidence own the room!
* Practice- just like preparing for the game. It doesn’t change. Use the same methodology you would in athletics. Practice a personal elevator pitch (more on that next week) for when you meet with the recruiters, practice a mock question & answer session about your industries of interest- (guys practice tying a tie, I know that sounds dumb- but waiting until the last minute to prepare & showing up with a jacked up Windsor knot is even dumber). I'll reiterate- Treat this just like a game situation. You are in essence preparing for the next game.

That's it; everything comes down to preparation & practice. Follow this simple formula & you will make your next career fair a success. For more information about upcoming career fairs & additional career planning resources visit

Best wishes,

Chad Pinkston
Chief Sales Officer
The Corporate Playbook LLC

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