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How To Succeed at a Career Fair By Really Trying

It’s May! The sun is shining, flowers are blooming and people are racing outside to the…career fair? Actually, yes, this old school recruiting practice continues to gain in popularity as the recession becomes a distant memory and hiring surges. Employers plan to hire 8.6 percent more new college graduates this year according to a new survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit group that tracks hiring.

So it’s a perfect time to figure out what to wear, how to act and how NOT to ruin your chances for employment at a career fair. We here at HR Acuity attend career fairs frequently and as a result have compiled quite the Career Fair Manual.

Dress the Part

If you search “career fair advice” the most common articles displayed are those telling you how important your appearance is at a career fair…and it’s true. You should approach a career fair the same way you’d approach an interview with the most prestigious company there. That means, at the very least, a dress shirt and pants/skirt or business dress. If you don’t own any professional dress clothing you can always ask to borrow from a family member or friend. At a recent career fair HR Acuity visited, we met a man in a suit that was clearly too big for him. Although it was apparent he had borrowed the suit for the event, we appreciated his commitment to dress the part. Employers understand that certain resources, like dress clothes, may not be available to college students, but they do take note when the effort is made. Not only is dress clothing important, but your entire look from head to toe must be appropriate also. You’ll be walking around so wear comfortable but dressy shoes, and don’t make the classic “athletic-socks-with-dress-shoes’ mistake. Make sure your clothing is pressed, smells nice and has no rips or tears. Keep your hair neat and if you are a male, trim up any facial hair. While it can be tough for college students or out of work candidates to afford a total makeover, an informal survey of recruiters found the following:

“Almost universally, recruiters at these events said that, simply on the basis of seeing the job seeker — and before the seeker ever reached their booth, talked to them or handed out their resume — that the prospect dressed in extremely casual clothing struck them as being unprepared, irresponsible, less capable, educated and qualified and possessing poor work habits. On the other hand, they described more formally dressed individuals as capable, well-educated, intelligent, trustworthy, responsible and people they wanted to hire.”

Prepare for the Part

There is something very overt about career fairs – we all know why companies are there. So don’t ask the people exhibiting if they are hiring. Of course they are, it’s a career fair! You would be slightly taken aback if they asked you if you were looking for work. In fact, at a recent career fair, we were shocked that about 75% of the people asked us this very question! It’s like going to a car showroom and asking if they are selling cars. Prepare an opening remark to use as you approach each table. Even something as simple as “I’d love to learn about the opportunities you have” can go a long way to starting a conversation. Even better, research the companies that are attending before you go and find one tidbit to share with the recruiter. Opening with “I learned from your website that you have a terrific management training program” will certainly make you a standout among all those other folks asking if there are any career openings!

Act the Part

When an executive tells you about their work, there are a lot of responses you can give, but “I don’t think I could do that job” shouldn’t be one of them. Employers are there to see what you have to offer, not hear a litany of complaints about a job you don’t have yet. Even if you discover that you’re not interested in the company midway through the recruiter’s spiel, part of landing any job is common courtesy and the ability to read a situation. Refrain from complaining, obvious displays of boredom or rude behavior. You are there to impress. Act like it. And be certain to avoid making these comments that we heard at a recent career fair:

  • “I don’t know what I want to do, I just want a job.”
  • “I only have one copy of my resume.”
  • “My current job depresses me.”
  • “I don’t know what my major is.”
  • “Hello girls.”

Needless to say, none of the men or women who made these comments got a job with HR Acuity!

WE HAVE ONE FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE:

If you don’t know your resume backward and forwards (or didn’t bring one at all), stay away from a career fair. We’re there to help but you have to meet us halfway.

Photo Credit: stockyimages via bigstock

Deb Muller
Deb Muller

Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, the employee relations case management solution that companies trust to help them track, investigate, and analyze employee issues the right way.