Job or career fairs are great venues to connect with employers, conduct informational interviews and even snatch a job interview. But if you’re the type who gets stressed out by crowds, talking to strangers or competing for attention, attending these events can be a challenge. Here are a few tips to get over your stress and stand out from the crowd:
There is nothing like having good, relevant information in your pocket to help make you feel more confident.
- Know all that you can about the event and the participating companies. Know which companies are attending and which ones you are interested in.
- Be strategic and choose 3-4 prospective employers to maximize your time. Conduct research on these companies (read How to research a prospective employer before an interview for tips).
- Think about possible questions you might ask and list them down. Use what you learned from your research to create thought-provoking questions. For example, ask, “How would you describe your company’s culture?” or “What skills or qualifications do you look for most in a candidate for this position?” You can also ask if their company has training opportunities in case they don’t have current openings fitting your skills.
- Prepare and bring copies of your updated resume as well as your business card or portfolio (if you have).
- Have a good elevator pitch. Be ready to talk about your professional experience. Who knows, you might just be what they are looking for and ask you for an interview right then and there. Read The most common interview questions you should prepare for for more tips.
Dress to impress
Looking good makes you feel good – and this makes you exude confidence. You won’t go wrong by wearing business attire or at least business casual to a job fair. Aim for a neat and polished look. And don’t forget to smell good (or at least neutral). You’ll be speaking and standing closely to recruiters and other people. But don’t go overboard with the perfume. There are a lot of people who have scent allergies and will be put off by too much. It would also be a good idea to have mints in case you need to freshen your breath. And a note for the ladies: you’ll be doing a lot of standing, walking and milling around so you might want to rethink wearing those high, high heels. But if stilettos make you feel more confident, go right ahead. Just think of a comfortable exit strategy like having ballet flats in your bag to wear for later.
Go with a friend
Going with a friend can boost your confidence level. Knowing that there will be at least one familiar face there can help you be less nervous. Your friend can support you, especially if you’re the shy type or if you are still getting used to the English language. But don’t make your buddy a crutch – don’t let your friend speak for you. Connect with people on your own and speak for yourself. Recruiters will be turned off if they see that you are very dependent on someone else.
The early bird catches the worm! In the case of job fairs, getting there early can give you the opportunity to speak to the exhibitors while they are still full of energy. You’ll also be able to have a more fruitful conversation with less people competing for their attention. Go early but not too early that they are still setting up (aim at being 30 minutes early). Having enough time to explore the job fair will also give you a chance to go around at a more relaxed pace.
Know how to break the ice
Here are few tips for approaching representatives and keeping the conversation going:
- Warm up. Practice talking to your friend or other people at the event before you approach your target company. This will ease your nerves and help you remember some talking points.
- Approach them with confidence. Greet them warmly and show that you are interested in the company/organization and what their representatives have to say.
- Be aware of your body language. Smile, shake hands and have good eye contact. Don’t cross your arms while talking to the representative. It shows that you do not want to connect and are cautious.
- Ask your thought-provoking questions.
- Remember to answer questions well. Don’t just give yes or no answers. Remember that this can be part of your job interview. Don’t forget to let them know your professional background and experience (deliver a sharp and memorable elevator pitch!)
- End the conversation well. Thank them for their time and indicate your willingness to continue the conversation, connect with a specific person in the organization or meet them for an interview. You can say: “That was really interesting, thank you for the information. I am looking forward to our meeting next week (or meeting with the HR manager on ___).” Don’t forget to get their contact details or business cards. In case you don’t bag an interview, you can still send them a thank you email or call them for an informational interview after the event.
Remember that it’s a two-way street: Just as you want to stand out, recruiters want to be memorable too. So listen and be genuinely interested in what the company representatives have to say. Enjoy your time at the event. Make sure that aside from collecting the freebies (who doesn’t like free pens, notepads and stress balls?), you also collect great connections to boost your professional network.
Read: Maximizing your opportunities at a job fair for more tips.
Sources: How to be more confident at networking events, Work it Daily; Best questions to ask at job fairs, Alison Doyle, the balance; and Headed to a career fair? How to stand out, Katie Douthwaite Wolf, the muse. Accessed October 9, 2019.
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