What is the Real Function of a Job Fair?

At a recent networking event I attended as an advisor, a conversation point came up discussing the purpose of a job fair. Many people scoffed at the concept as a waste of time, saying that most employers represented weren’t really hiring, and found that many representatives in the booths referred applicants to their corporate website rather than conducting interviews on-site. Short of walking out of the fair with a job in hand, some of the group felt that attending the fair was a fruitless endeavor.

While the likelihood of having a bona fide interview for a specific position might be low, attending career fairs can be important information-gathering occasions. Think of it as business intelligence or reconnaissance on companies and their personnel.

The key to leveraging the list of companies at a job fair is to target those who are a fit for your background. Spend a little time researching exhibiting companies, and find out what types of positions are available or are a part of that organization so you arrive on-site armed with information and a purpose.

By coming into such an event with a laser-precise approach and a focused polished résumé to suit, you can engage hiring managers on site with aplomb and finesse. If the position that they are hiring for isn’t a match for your skills, redirect by citing a specific example of the type of position that you are looking for (that exists within the organization), and ask if you could get the name of the person in that department or position. The purpose is to get a name – possibly a future networking contact or informational interview. It’s important to be respectful without being threatening (like you want that person’s job), so take a friendly approach- informed, non-barracuda-ish, but knowledgeable and engaged in the company as a whole. That can help make a good impression with hiring managers at the fair and increase your chances of getting that person’s name. These days, having connections are even more important in getting a job, so building your network through informational interviews is vital to your search plan.

There’s an added benefit to these events: Many times, interacting with job fair employers can provide a great opportunity to practice interviewing. Any interaction that you have with booth representatives should be considered an interview of some sort- you are there to convey your value proposition to the employer; the employer is there to sift through the hundreds if not thousands of attendees to find viable candidates. Being nimble and on your feet conversationally with employers in a busy setting such as a job fair is excellent ‘boot camp’ in learning how to be clear, to the point and most importantly, concise.

Additionally, being elbow-to-elbow with other applicants is a dramatic but realistic picture of what the job market place is actually like. Most of the time, we don’t see the other applicants or job seekers when we are sitting at home sending out applications from our computer; job fairs make your competition a reality. This could be a sobering ‘gut check’ to re-evaluate your résumé’s effectiveness- are you clearly communicating your value and achievements in this document to make yourself stand out over the other applicants standing in line behind you?

This is all food for thought… job fairs might not actually result in a job, but they can yield a great deal of information quickly to help you hone your interviewing skills and give you a perspective of what you need to do to stand out from the crowd.

Pathfinder Writing and Career Services will be providing free résumé reviews at the National Career Fairs Portland event on Tuesday, March 3 from 11am-2pm at the Red Lion Columbia River. To find out details of the event, please click here.