Executives’ 11-Step Guide to Job Fairs

They’re not just for entry-level positions. Tips and tricks for mid- and senior-level executives to get the most out of choosing and attending job fairs.

By Kevin Fogarty & John Hazard

The recession is forcing job fairs to move upstream, bringing in recruiters and companies hiring for mid- and senior-level executives. It’s worth your time to attend a few, if you’re looking for a job or just curious about your options.

Ladders asked recruiters and career coaches for their advice and compiled this guide for more-seasoned job seekers to get the most out of finding and attending job fairs.

1. Avoid general/government job fairs.

Events organized by local government agencies and chambers of commerce tend to be unfocused, involving companies because they’re local, not because they’re relevant.

2. Target a session or recruiter, and get there early.

Look at the agenda ahead of time to see if there’s a particular session, recruiter or company in which you are interested. Get there early and talk to other early arrivals; they probably have a special interest in the topic or company. Find out what they know and who they know you should talk to. Find out who in the room is influential in that area, and talk to them.

3. Don’t hover or wait in line.

Don’t stand still while someone else talks to the contact you want to meet. Pick up the contact’s information and leave your card; come back when the contact is free, or follow up later.

4. Research the host.

Before you attend, learn about the organization hosting the event. Check it out online. Find members or leaders in the group, and call or write them for details. Sometimes you have to make the leap and attend an event you aren’t sure will be helpful, but most of the time you can do enough research to know before you go.

5. Match yourself to the host.

Do research about who’s behind the event so you can identify the best match for your skills, background and interests. A pharmaceutical marketing manager in New Jersey will get more mileage out of an event hosted by an organization of New Jersey pharmaceutical marketing managers than by a general marketing-industry event.

6. Research the companies in attendance.

Read up on the companies going to the event; make a list of the ones you want to talk to and what you can glean from them. If you can narrow down the list to identify the actual company representative to whom you’d like to speak, you can prepare a better case for why you’d make a good contribution to his or her team.

7. Participate.

Find a way to be more than an attendee. If you’re the speaker, you don’t have to worry about chasing down recruiters or fellow job seekers. They will find you.

8. Be prepared.

Prep for a job fair, a professional conference or a meeting of a professional organization just as you would for a job interview, a presentation or a meeting with a client. You must demonstrate that you are knowledgeable, professional and capable.

9. Bring a resume.

Unlike the Internet, where most job applications occur these days, in-person events, require a paper resume you can hand out. Follow the resume rules: no images, no fonts that can’t be scanned.

10. Bring business cards.

You might also want a private business card. If you’re still working and are uncomfortable handing out your work card, have some made up with your name and private contact info. They’re cheap, they’re easy to hand out, and they give the impression of professionalism.

11. Talk to everyone.

Talk to your fellow job seekers. Job fairs are tailor made for people looking for jobs. “They’re like mixers for people too shy to mix on their own,” said Irene Marshall, a certified resume writer, career coach and president of coaching service Tools For Transition, who works with Ladders. Everyone at a job fair has been doing their own homework, and most will be willing to compare notes with you.