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Are Career Fairs Worth Your Time and Energy?

I’m not sure why career fairs still exist. Many are so ineffective for both candidates and recruiters. Yet companies continue to pour more money into them and candidates continue to pour more time into them.

Companies spend tens of thousands of dollars on registration fees, travel, fancy displays, swag, and more to participate in career fairs. Often recruiters end up disappointed in the talent pool. Especially if they don’t stick around for the duration of the fair. (And from my past experience in hosting career fairs at the colleges I used to work at, many recruiters either showed up late or left early – or both!)

Job seekers spend hours putting together a resume that doesn’t allow them to target one specific job or company. They also spend their energy trying to perfect an elevator pitch that doesn’t really work. They typically walk away with a bag full of chintzy promo items and no real opportunities of interest.

Time Better Spent

The type of career fairs worth your time

Since career fairs do still exist, there are some it makes sense for job seekers to attend. This is only true however when you choose to attend those as specific in nature as possible.

This can include a career fair hosted just for a certain industry or just for certain job functions. Like a fair just for coding jobs or companies seeking coders.

It can also include fairs hosted just by one particular company for all their open positions. If there’s a specific company you’re interested in working for or getting your foot in the door with, it makes sense for you to spend your time attending their own career fair.

If you’re interested in a particular role, then it makes sense to attend fairs focused on recruiting for this role.

It’s not worth your energy to attend large, massive, “open-call” fairs which are general in nature. You know these type of fairs. They’re usually announced on the 6:00 news and held at your local NFL stadium or other large venue. They’re like cattle calls for any and all recruiters and candidates. It’s very hard to stand out from a crowd so large.

Also, if you’re an experienced candidate looking for mid-level professional positions, you’re likely to only find entry-level or non-professional positions available at these larger fairs.

How to make career fairs worth your time

If you do hear about a career fair that sounds like it could be worth your time, there are some things you need to do on your part to get the most out of it.

First, you want to find out exactly what companies will be in attendance or what specific roles recruiters are looking to fill. This is usually easy to find. The event’s web site typically lists who’s attending and what they’re hiring for.

You then want to use this information to be strategic in your attendance. Rank which booths are most important to you to visit and determine what order you should visit those booths. If you know you become less nervous and communicate better after taking some time to talk to others, save your preferred booths until later so you’ve had a chance to loosen up.

When you discover on the event’s site a specific job you really want, create a resume tailored to the job using some of the same language and keywords found in the job description. If you’re interested in multiple positions with a particular company, tailor your resume to the company using some of the same keywords found in their mission statement and core values. This will require you to do a deep-dive of the company’s web site and job listings.

Make sure you keep your targeted resumes separated from any general resumes you bring with you. You want to ensure you’re handing out the right one to the right people.

It’s always a good idea to have some general resumes on hand even if you plan to only visit the booths you’re interested in. You never know when a recruiter from a company you hadn’t previously considered wants to talk to you. And you might become interested in their opportunities. How bad would it look if they asked for your resume and you didn’t have one to hand them?

Finally, you want to stand out from your competition. You do this by talking less about yourself, and listening more to the company and their needs. One of the best questions you can ask a recruiter at a career fair is,

“What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had in finding the talent you’re seeking?”

This question makes you stand out because it speaks to a recruiter’s pain point and shows you’re empathetic to their side of the issue.

It also helps you gather the information you need to know how you might be able to help solve their problem. Use their answer to determine which of your skills you should emphasize in future interviews. Use it also to determine what areas you need to improve upon between now and your future interviews.

Replace the lame, over-done elevator pitch with this question and you’ll be a breath of fresh air to tired and frustrated recruiters.

Better alternatives to career fairs

If you still find career fairs to be a waste of your time, there are other (and usually better) alternatives.

Many companies host or sponsor local events like panels or talks on industry-related topics. These events are typically open to anyone with an interest in those topics. When you attend such events you not only increase your knowledge of the industry, you also get to be in the same room with company representatives.

These are the people you should make a point to introduce yourself to. Let them know how valuable the event was for you and thank them for making it happen. Then from this introduction, nurture and foster the relationship like you would any other networking relationship.

I remember attending a panel on a topic I was interested in learning more about. I had no idea who was sponsoring it until I got there. After the panel was over, I found myself in a conversation with the VP of the company sponsoring the event. A month later, he hired me to do some contract work for his company.

You never know what can happen at these events! Even if you don’t make a connection, you at least learn something while there instead of walking away with nothing to show for your time.

And if you do make a connection that leads to a job interview, you’ll stand out by being able to say you were at the event. This will show your genuine interest in the industry and in growing your knowledge.

Other alternatives to career fairs can include company open-houses, job shadowing opportunities, informational interviews, and more. To find such opportunities, sometimes you have to dig through Eventbrite’s calendar or a company’s press releases or Twitter announcements. Sometimes all you have to do is simply ask.

Companies would fare better in finding great talent by hosting more events like these. They will attract the kind of talent that’s serious about their company and their company’s core values. And it will be a better return on their investment of time and money.

Maybe by you simply asking a company if they have any such events will give them the idea to do more of them!

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