Career Fairs: Yes or No?

The topic of the day is career fairs. Are they a useful tool in the job search or a big waste of time?

This week, as my big hunt for employment began to pick up momentum, I attended a career fair that was posted on Monster.com and heavily advertised around the Columbus area. I always give career fairs a fighting chance, but rarely do they yield me results. Handing out a resume at one of these is like throwing a needle into a haystack and hoping the farmer can find it. Nevertheless, I printed my resumes, opened my mind and hoped for the best. 

This particular fair not only proved to be a huge waste of time, but opened up my eyes to the realities of a harsh economy.

I arrived at the fair to stand in a line hundreds of people deep. These people came from all walks of life - young and old, rich and poor, qualified looking and unqualified looking. When it finally came time to enter the room, only about 30 companies were present. And to make matters worse, about half were gimmicky sales jobs. (You know, the "build your own success" types?)

To risk sounding like a cheesy commercial for career services, I want to ask this question: How do you make the most out of a job fair search? 

I keep reading tips like these found on university career services and job listings websites, but these are no-brainer tips that all people who even hope to find a decent job should already know. Granted, I'm young and by far inexperienced compared to others, but I've still taken part in my fair share of career fairs and would like to offer additional advice:
  • Set your resume apart from the others. It's not enough to just print out 20 resumes and hand them out. The employers will be receiving hundreds of resumes just like yours. Be sure to fill yours with industry key words that make you stand out and highlight your greatest assets and accomplishments.
  • Be prepared to brag. Yes, you have to attend the fair prepared for small talk and having that "list of questions" in mind, but you have to talk yourself up! Keeping in mind to be professional, slip in the things about yourself that make you unique and worthy of being hired - something that will stick in their minds and make them want to call you back. 
  • Don't wait. If you are interested in a particular employer, call them immediately. Chances are your resume isn't at the top of their stack, so make sure it is by thanking them for their time and asking for future interaction.
  • Don't go. If you research the companies ahead of time and none of the companies fit your career goals, don't waste your time. I find this point difficult because I believe in serendipity and always hope for the best, but more often than not, attending a job fair with bleak prospects discourages my motivation for searching. Instead, focus your time on looking up companies that interest you and contact them on your own.
So now you have my two cents. What's your take on career fairs? What is your favorite way to search for a desirable job?


Crys said...

I've never had any luck with career fairs. Mainly because there are never really any opportunities there that were for me. I got really lucky stumbling across the internship that I did. I've kind of found that knowing people and making a friendly business connection with them can help a lot. That and regularly checking job search websites that cater to the needs of journalists :)

KBrock said...

The only one I went to was sponsored by Monster and it was just depressing. There were so many people with advanced degrees, years of experience, been working for the same company for 20 years and got laid off, etc, that it was awful to see them fight for these crappy entry level jobs. For me, it was a huge waste. I suggest Craigslist for job hunting.