By Julie Desmond
Just as the cooler weather sets in, career fair season begins to heat up. Whether you're currently unemployed or just daydreaming about a career move, attending a career fair is a free, low-risk way to meet representatives from a wide range of companies, and can be a shortcut into the interview process. Just as the cooler weather sets in, career fair season begins to heat up. Whether you're currently unemployed or just daydreaming about a career move, attending a career fair is a free, low-risk way to meet representatives from a wide range of companies, and can be a shortcut into the interview process. To be sure you walk away from a career fair with more than a logo letter opener and sore feet, manage your day professionally: plan ahead, present for success and follow up promptly.
Before you go, know which companies will be attending. Check the web site associated with the career fair to find a list of companies which will be represented. Choose four or five organizations to target, learn all you can through their web sites and other resources, and then devise a sincere, intelligent question for each one.
Ask only for information you really want to know. An intelligent question might be: "What is a typical career path at this organization?" An intelligent question would not be: "Tell me about your company." Now proofread your resume, tuck a few copies into a smart-looking folder or folio, and dress for a day on the job. As the saying goes, you only have one chance to make a first impression.
Learn your lines: consider devising a script so you'll know what to say when standing before that critically important first gatekeeper -- your friendly company representative. You don't have to open with your name. "Hi," a firm handshake, "nice to meet you," is enough for starters. Follow with that carefully crafted question or comment, and then listen intently to the answer. You'll need to refer to the rep's comments when you write a thank you note later on.
Provide a resume if requested, but don't expect a thorough discussion of your background and qualifications. This exchange is not an interview. Of course, it can lead to an interview. Ask what the next steps will be in the application process. Should you follow up with anyone specifically, or apply online? Jot down any details you'll want to remember before you move on to your next targeted company. Within the next day or two, send a thank you note to the people you met at the fair. Apply online or connect with anyone you were referred to. Don't procrastinate; memories in the business world can be short, and you want to be remembered.
Two upcoming career fairs worth visiting are the Career Day at University of Phoenix and the Diversity Job Fair. Career Day at UOP will be held Tuesday, September 18, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. University of Phoenix will have more than fifteen companies participating, and welcomes everyone (students and non-students alike) to attend. On Wednesday, October 17, visit the Diversity Job Fair from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Both events are free and open to the public.