Are Job Fairs Still Worth Your Time?

If you’re looking for a job, In addition to all the online social and real interpersonal networking, job boards, posting sites and direct applications, are you still attending job fairs?  Are these events still worth your job search time?  For a great many job seekers, the answer is, “Yes”!  Attending job fairs is still a viable action for those seeking work.
How much value a job seeker gets from attending a job fair is dependent on the efforts and preparation one puts in before the event.  Find out who is sponsoring the event; go to their website and see what companies will be attending.  Then research the companies that interest you the most so you’re prepared to talk with whomever is staffing their booth.
Job fairs have evolved over the years.  Larger events are sponsored by local newspapers or event planning companies.  They invite a large and varied number of employers to pay for booth space, and list the jobs their company may be offering. Other fairs are produced by industry-specific trade groups or associations to promote their members’ companies and technologies, in addition to searching for talent.  And around the country, many municipalities now host job fairs in conjunction with their county/state employment services, training agencies and local non-profits.
Consider these two questions before attending a job fair:

  • Who will you be talking to when you get there?
  • Do the companies in attendance presently have actual job openings?

Obviously, you’ll do much better and learn more about a company’s openings from an HR pro than you will from most any other staff member.  HR people will be more knowledgeable about the jobs that are presently available, and be informed about the perks and benefits of working for that employer.  If a company you like doesn’t have an opening perfectly suited to you, being able to meet and converse with an HR insider gives you a chance to discuss where else your skills may be applicable.  And, when the right job does become available, your new contact could keep you informed and aware of that opening.
Talking with the HR staff at a job fair can help you establish a relationship where the three dreaded words – “no calls please” – isn’t a barrier because you’ve built a rapport with someone who will recognize your name when you call.  When you meet HR people at a job fair, get their contact info.  Find out if you can connect with them using professional social networking tools like LinkedIn, and if they use Twitter to promote open positions.  Stay in touch with them to ensure your name is retained and will be recognized when you submit your application and resume.
Some companies staff their job fair booths with promotion, p.r. and marketing people.  If these or related employment areas are the ones that most interest you, meeting these people can be a real blessing, and you should get to know them and stay in contact with them about current and future openings!
However, marketing and promo people may not know a lot of specifics about the available jobs.  They may have flyers announcing particular openings, but they may just talk about how great the company is to work for, the company’s projects and goals, but ultimately they’ll refer you to company’s web site to search for and apply for open positions.  Although they may collect resumes from job seekers, the likelihood of promo staff passing your history to the right hiring manager is limited.  Marketing people may also not provide you with names and contact info for the people in charge of hiring, but it never hurts to ask.  But they may provide important links to online feeds that do announce current openings.
Remember who else is in attendance at job fairs.  A few people may be there to compete with you for the same or similar jobs.  But the only job search that matters is your own.  Keep your ears and eyes open at these events.  Listen to how the people in the line in front of you interact with company representatives.  You might overhear information relevant to your search, things about skill requirements or prior experiences necessary for consideration.  You may hear about jobs at companies you are not familiar with.  You might also hear things that entice you to apply, or dissuade you from considering certain employers.  Be open to all input, but where you apply is ultimate your own decision.
If you’re looking for work, standing in one line after another with hundreds of other applicants may seem counter-productive.  But if you make the right contact, hear about the right job, and meet the right hiring manager, attending a job fair will be worth your time.
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