Make an Impression at Career Fairs

first impressionIt can feel like the same old thing — you and hundreds, if not thousands, of other job seekers are trying to make a good first impression. Career fairs can be a critical piece to your job search because of the access they provide you, in person, to employers who are hiring — a goldmine. But how can you stand out in the sea of faces from the hundreds of others in your field vying for the same job? Many job seekers get overwhelmed by the prospect and honestly get a pit in their stomach similar to networking when they consider attending a career fair. We even start to wonder, are they even worth attending?

They absolutely are, as long as the right employers are there for you to meet. And because they are so critical, you must learn to turn that negative feeling into motivation to shine. You only have a few seconds, perhaps even a few minutes, to make a positive impression. Make it count. Here are eleven things you need to do to prepare. After you have reviewed the eleven tips, watch this video to learn more:

  1. Prepare mentally first. Identify any fears you have about being there that could hold you back. Write them down in advance, and focus on how you want to feel instead. Come up with a mantra if you have to.
  2. Find a list of employers that will be there. Do everything you can to get your hands on a list, including contacting the event organizer if necessary.
  3. Identify the top five employers you want to get in front of. Plan your time there. Which ones do you want to hit first versus last when you are fresh versus at the end of your time there? And honestly, consider starting with a few when you first arrive that you are not as interested in — in order to get warmed up, so to speak.
  4. Research the companies, find current news. Identify talking points for each company by reading recent press releases on their website and finding recent news items from outside sources.
  5. Prepare three questions to ask. Be clear about what you want to ask each employer to demonstrate your knowledge not just about the company, but also about the role you are applying for.
  6. Practice how to follow up. Prepare your close for each person — ask them at the end of your conversation, “What is the best way to follow up on the job openings you have?” Get their card. Don’t leave it in their hands.
  7. Plan your wardrobe a week before. Yes, even for men! You must make a good impression by dressing professionally. What if your pants need to be altered or have a stain that needs to be removed? Prepare in advance. You do not need any additional last-minute stress.
  8. Have/create a business card. If you are looking to change industries, don’t use your current business card. They will peg you as someone in that role as opposed to the new one you are looking for. If you are unemployed, absolutely positively you must have a card made up that you can hand out. Vistaprint.com has great cards at affordable prices.
  9. Practice your elevator pitch. This goes without saying. Prepare your intro for each company so you are ready to go with who you are and what your value proposition is for each employer.
  10. Practice your handshake. This may sound silly, but how many people have you met and been surprised at their limp handshake? This happens more often than not. Make sure it is not you.
  11. Be yourself. Relax and be authentic at these events. Use humor to break the ice. Develop a personal connection with the prospective employer by asking them about their travels there or referencing something about the fair itself. Make small talk to relax yourself and ease into the conversation, but also to develop that connection as much as possible.