Whether you love or loathe professional networking, it's one of the most powerful tools you'll ever use to find your ideal job.
In fact, an estimated 80 percent of jobs are found through networking. Therefore, that's how you should devote ¾ of your job search time and career planning energies.
While networking can and should happen in a variety of informal and formal settings on an ongoing basis, what's one of the best places for the college student, job seeker or career transitioner to network? A career fair, of course!
There are several types of job and career fairs -- from those scheduled for specific majors on college campuses to industry-specific events for seasoned professionals. But they all share a common theme: when approached optimally, it's the place for job candidates to shine and make valuable connections.
Here are some tips you can use to maximize the successful outcomes of your career fair experience.
To help you make the most effective use of your time at the fair, here is some critical advance work:
- Review the list of organizations that will have a booth at the fair and narrow in on the top five with whom you most want to connect
- Secure a map (usually available online) that shows the career fair layout so you can see where these organizations' booths will be
- Hone your 30-second elevator speech, and practice it to make sure it sounds natural, clear and dynamic. Think of it as a combination of your personal brand, unique selling points and value proposition, all wrapped up in a friendly, punchy and pithy pitch
- Print at least 20 copies of your resume. If you're not sure your resume incorporates the latest must-have features and serves as a powerful marketing tool for you, check out this invaluable guide here
- Bring along a stack of business cards that include your name, brief personal branding statement, cell, email address and LinkedIn profile link.
Since you've done your homework, you know which booths you want to visit first. This practice is so much more effective than just strolling around randomly to see who has current job openings.
When you approach the organizations that interest you most, be sure you've done enough research so you can delve far deeper than, "So what does your company do?" You are there to learn AND you are there to impress, so make the most of your exchange with the HR staffers on the other side of the booth.
Great questions you can ask include:
- What types of strengths and experience do you look for in new hires?
- How would you describe the organizational culture?
- How long does the hiring process take and what does it consist of?
- What type of training or ongoing professional development does the organization provide?
You'll be asked questions too, so be prepared to speak about your strengths, experience, goals, and how and why you would bring so much value to the organization.
A big part of why people are hired, right or wrong, is how well an interviewer believes the prospects will get along with the rest of the team. When engaging with company reps and fellow career fair attendees, be sure you come across as the warm, confident, energetic and likable person you are! That means stand tall, make the right amount of eye contact, have a firm handshake, and keep your cell phone tucked away.
Post-fair Activities That Will Make All the Difference
Career fairs can be extremely successful networking opportunities if post-event follow-up is handled in a fast, organized and professional way.
Before you leave the venue, make sure you have all of the business cards and contact information you need to connect with every single person you met there.
Take the time to jot down a note about a particular point you discussed with these individuals so you can send a tailored, follow-up email to them that evening. If you had a substantial connection with someone you met there, consider sending him or her a personalized LinkedIn connection request.
[Read More: From Business Card to Business Relationship in 5 Steps]
Then get to work on writing notes to anyone who took time to speak with you about a particular job opportunity. Even though they will have just received your email, reiterate your appreciation for their time with a note, and always be sure you include an offer that lets them you are happy to be of help to them as well.
Be sure to mail these thank-you notes right away, (vs finding them in the side door of your car six weeks later), and if you indicate you will be connecting again with them the following week, be sure you do.
If you are friendly, well prepared (research targeted companies ahead of time and be sure your 30-second personal branding statement rocks), do not check your phone during the event, dress professionally, do not spend your whole time clinging to the friend or colleague you brought with you, and engage in the post-event activities I've just described, these fairs will be very effective for you.
While quick connections can turn into rapid job offers, don't be disappointed if big miracles don't happen overnight. Instead, be patient and enjoy developing mutually beneficial relationships with your new contacts.
Maria Katrien Heslin is a Certified Success and Career Coach at Thrive Coaching & Development. You can follow her on Twitter @coachthrive.
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