Career advice

How to stand out at a job fair and land an offer

With the record-low unemployment rate in Canada right now, many industries and organizations are struggling to recruit the staff they need to hire. This has led to an increase in companies and community services agencies holding job fairs to help connect employers with job seekers.

These events can be for one employer needing to hire multiple candidates or for positions with several companies coming together to source potential new hires. Generally, job fairs are considered a faster way for organizations to hire when more passive recruitment strategies aren’t keeping up with the demand for workers.

If posting jobs online and advertising opportunities in local publications isn’t attracting the talent they need, companies put on an event to meet with local candidates face-to-face. There are some variations on how this is done. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, many groups held virtual job fairs. These allowed candidates to book an appointment with participating employers, meet with them for a video chat, and submit their resumes online.

Some organizations have even held drive-through job fairs. Hey, if you can order a meal, get married, or divorce at a drive-through window, why not land a new job that way as well?

How to make the most of a job fair

When you attend a job fair, whether in person, virtually, or even at a drive-through, it is a good idea to prepare as much as possible in advance. Doing your homework can go a long way toward making a positive first impression on the participating employers and maximizing your chances of receiving a job offer.

Find out which employers will be participating and which positions they will be hiring for. This way, you can dress the part, customize your resume for the role you will be applying for, and prepare some intelligent questions to strike up engaging conversations with the hiring managers.

In the same way that it would be easier to score an "A" on an exam in school if you knew what all of the questions would be in advance, you can stand out as a star candidate to potential employers if you knew exactly what they would be looking for in job seekers.

Employers participating in job fairs will meet with many potential candidates in a short period of time. This can make it challenging for you to make an impression and be memorable. Here are some strategies for catching their attention.

Look professional. Many people will drop by a job fair on a whim or simply show up in their casual everyday clothes. That can be fine. Many of the roles recruited at a job fair don’t require a suit and tie. However, dressing up at least a little shows employers that you are a motivated candidate who cares about making a positive professional impression.

So, while wearing a three-piece suit for a job at a warehouse might make you seem like a poor fit for the role, putting on a clean, collared shirt for the fair will come across as a sign of respect for the employer and the opportunity. Be well-groomed and dress professionally, even if it is just business casual. This means no jeans, shorts, t-shirts, or yoga pants.

Be upbeat, positive, and confident in your abilities. Look the employer in the eye when speaking to them, smile, and have a friendly demeanor. Let the employer know what you can do for them and how motivated you are to join their team. Hiring managers appreciate confident candidates who are enthusiastic about the role.

Ask smart questions. Never ask the employer anything you could have easily learned from a simple visit to their website. That gives the impression that you didn’t prepare for the meeting at all and therefore don’t care that much.

On the flip side, asking questions about the challenges of the role, any recent news stories about the company, or changes to the industry, show that you are a savvy professional who has been thinking about working in the sector.

Learn as much as you can about the companies you will be meeting with. Job fairs will publish a list of attending organizations in advance, allowing you to research the employers. Doing this homework will enable you to formulate those smart questions to ask, and it will also provide you with the opportunity to focus your efforts.

There may be some employers whose jobs don’t appeal to you, so don’t waste your time on these. Concentrate your efforts on the few opportunities that you really do want. Employers will be most impressed with candidates who seem to know about their organization and industry. It is easier to prepare for those conversations with two or three employers than with five or six or more.

For a virtual meeting, test your technology in advance. At an online job fair, you will have a scheduled appointment with potential employers. It could seem disrespectful of their time if only once that meeting has begun do you realize that your mic isn’t working or the lighting in the room turns you into a silhouette. Employers will look far more favourably on those candidates who have set up their professional background and lighting and tested their mic and camera ahead of time.

Bring your resume. Bring quite a few nicely printed copies of your resume to the job fair. The amount will depend on how big the fair is and how many employers you plan to meet. Keep in mind that copies can get wrinkled or stained in transit, so it is better to have extra. Also, you may be speaking with several people from the same organization at one time and might want to offer them each a copy.

Collect contact information and follow up for the win. You should also bring a notebook and pen - or a smartphone, tablet, or laptop – for collecting information. Note the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of potential employers with whom you have had positive conversations. Some will have business cards, but not everyone carries these anymore.

Following the job fair, send a polite note thanking the employer for taking the time to meet with you and consider your candidacy. You can also forward an electronic copy of your resume and the thank you note. This will remind the employer of the discussion you had on a day when they may have met with many candidates and allow you to stand out as a motivated, professional potential hire.

Job fairs are on the rise, and they can be great opportunities for meeting with multiple employers in a single day. They can also shorten your job search, as some employers make a decision and offer candidates a position or a follow-up interview right on the spot. All it takes is a little preparation and professionalism to stand out from the sea of other candidates on hand.

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