Avoid the Job-Fair Line

Don’t join the herd at the job fair, Stephen Viscusi advises. Make yourself stand out by approaching companies that aren’t actively canvassing for talent.

Today’s job fairs seem anything but “fair” to me.

Have you noticed lately how every local TV news report has a weekly segment on a career or job fair? The footage may as well be recycled week after week: the camera pans over a long line wrapping around a corner.

My favorite part is when the reporter corners one of the attendees and gets her to talk about how this job seeker plans to “stand out” from the crowd.

However, that same person talks on camera about how she’s now begun to make friends in the job-fair lines because they all recognize one another from the previous week’s job fair. My advice: It might be time to re-evaluate the “standing out from the crowd” strategy.

Sadly, these unemployed job-fair attendees have become like lottery-ticket addicts. Do you know anybody who has actually landed an executive position from a job fair? Really, think about it.

I say nothing should be overlooked, from networking to online search engines to – yes – even job fairs. However, these fairs should be taken at face value.

The real trick to make the best use of your time if you’re looking for work? Approach companies that aren’t at job fairs.

Find the ones that don’t appear to be looking.

Just like every employee has had a boss he can’t stand, every boss has an employee she doesn’t like. The boss may not have the nerve to fire that employee until the perfect replacement comes along… and that could be you. So don’t limit your search to those companies that are “looking” – get your resume in front of everyone.

This tip is among 50 secrets in my book “Bulletproof Your Job” (HarperCollins) to keep your job or find a new one.

Taking the temp approach

Another secret if you’re unemployed is to offer yourself to employers on a “per-project” or “temp” basis (but avoid the word “consultant”).

Think about it: “Hires” always come down to a decision between two or more final candidates. If you are unemployed and confident you can do the job, you have nothing to lose by taking some pressure off the hiring authority and suggesting he they basically “tries you out” for 60 days. Whether the job is entry-level or executive, what hiring manager would not hire a finalist with the option to just try them out, no strings attached? It’s like leasing a car instead of buying! I’m told by readers of my book who have tried this technique that 95 percent of them go on to land a permanent job at the place where they “auditioned” for 60 days.

Sure, my strategies for landing a job are more back-door approaches. However, during a recession, every executive needs an extra edge to separate her from the other final candidates, who are all lining up at the front door.