I have attended well over a dozen job fairs since I started my company five years ago. Every year I attend fewer and fewer. Now I am down to one. For me, they are a waste, because attendees do not know what to do. So let me give job seekers a few simple rules to make job fairs beneficial.
1) First and foremost, set reasonable expectations. CEO positions are not presented at job fairs. Entry- and mid-level positions are what you will find. There will be scores, possibly hundreds, and maybe (for me it was a job fair for veterans) thousands of attendees. A meaningful conversation will not take place. The most that you can hope for is to receive an application form and drop off your resume (although most will want it e-mailed).
2) Look like a professional. It boggles the mind how many people go to job fairs dressed like they are on their way to the mall. Dress like a professional. When you are at a job fair, you are marketing you! The way you market yourself tells an employer everything they need to know about how you will market them!
3) Follow-up. Always take the business card of the person you meet. Always write on the back of it something they told you specifically about their company. If they asked you to e-mail them your resume, do it that day. When you send the resume, mention what they told you, what you wrote on the back of their card, so that they know you were listening and that you are not sending them a form e-mail.
4) Build your network. Even if you are not interested in any of the positions they are promoting, that does not mean there are not others or that there won’t be others in the future. A job fair is a great way to build your network. Send an e-mail to every employer you meet. Thank them for taking the time to tell you about their company. Tell them you were interested in what they had to say and, as just mentioned, mention what they told you, what you wrote on the back of their card, so that they know you were listening and that you are not sending them a form e-mail. In this case, you want to ask for a 10-minute informational meeting to learn more about their company, industry or profession, as the case may be.
5) Practice your pitch. Lastly, even if the fair is a complete waste of time with no suitable jobs being promoted and no companies for which you would like to work attending, you can still make it worthwhile. Simply practice your pitch. Get used to explaining who you are and in what type of job you are interested. Practice really does make perfect. When you finally meet the right employer, with the right job, you will deliver your pitch with confidence. There is nothing more appealing to an employer than a confident candidate.