Job fairs used to be a great way for qualified applicants to get face time with potential employers and pitch their resumes and achievements. But in a society defined by technology and saturated by the wealth of data available at your fingertips, is the job fair going the way of the dodo bird?
Not even close.
Using 2015 data from 255 organizations, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that, on average, employers are attending 31 career fairs per year. That's a lot of job fairs -- and a lot of chances to connect with the organizations you love and the people you need to impress to land a job.
Whether you're still in school or looking for a new way to revive your job search, attending a job fair could be just the boost you need to get your career on track.
Don't believe it? Here are three reasons job fairs are still relevant and how to take advantage of the job fairs in your area:
1. They're great career planning tools.
What does a job fair have that online job boards and social media can't provide? Real, face-to-face access to representatives from multiple organizations, all in one place.
There is arguably no better option for gaining firsthand knowledge from professionals in various industries without having to spend days and weeks scheduling informational interviews and phone calls. Because job fairs offer such a wide variety of companies that represent different industries, they are the perfect tool for students and young professionals who are just starting to think about where they want to take their careers.
How to take advantage: Do your homework. Make a list of the top industries that interest you and the companies you'd like to hear more from in those industries. Cross-reference your list with the attendees at the job fair, and focus your time during the first third of the event on making meaningful contact with those organizations.
Once you've checked them all off your list, circle back and visit other companies in your target industry so you can compare notes.
2. They make networking simple.
When you attend a job fair, you're surrounded by hundreds of potential contacts. From company representatives to the job seekers looking to pitch themselves, job fairs are like giant networking events. Remember, the best thing about job fairs is that they provide face-to-face opportunities to connect with people.
How to take advantage: Get to know the people you'll be interacting with. Research employees at your target organizations. Find out what they're working on, what interests them, and what challenges they're facing, so it's easier to make a meaningful connection.
Another great strategy is trying to find out who will represent the company before the job fair starts. Connect with them on LinkedIn, and let them know how excited you are to talk with them at the job fair.
If you can't find the representative, interact directly with the company's social media profiles and let them know about your interest and your plan to meet up with them at the job fair.
The key for job seekers is to make connections early and leverage those connections into extended face time with company representatives.
3. They're everywhere.
How many colleges are within 10 miles of your home? 20 miles? 30 miles?
Think about it. If the average employer attends 31 job fairs a year, chances are the companies you're interested in will be at at least one of the college fairs near you. Add to that the high number of industry-specific job fairs, professional organization job fairs, and job fairs put on by the city or state you live in, and you could be attending a job fair every other weekend. That's a lot of opportunities to take advantage of.
How to take advantage: The only way to take advantage of the opportunities job fairs present is to make sure you find them. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do that.
Tech-savvy job seekers can use apps like the one by my company, PathSource, created to locate job fairs in their area using their iPhone or Apple Watch and receive notifications when an event's date approaches. Less "app-inclined" job seekers can focus on Google searching, web-based job fair directories like Jobfairing.com, or Twitter searches using #jobfair combined with a location-based hashtag (#LosAngeles, #Miami, #NorthDakota) to get the details on local job fairs.
Preparation is key.
In the end, it doesn't matter how relevant job fairs are if you don't have a clear strategy while attending them. Job fairs are the most beneficial for job seekers who take the time to make a game plan and then execute it.
Don't just attend a job fair and float around, speaking to employers at random. Instead, take the time to do your research online and figure out what organizations are attending, where their booths will be, who their representatives are, and what kind of candidates they're looking for in order to get the most out of every job fair you attend.
What's your job fair strategy? Do you think they're dying out, or are they still relevant?
Aaron Michel is the co-founder and CEO at PathSource, a career exploration solution helping students and job seekers make better career choices. To navigate your infinite career possibilities, connect with Aaron and the PathSource team on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.