How to Make the Most Out of Job Fairs

first-5-icon-07Job fairs can be confusing, overwhelming, and stressful. But they don’t have to be. I’m not saying you can eliminate all the above, because nerves will naturally arise. However, there are some tidbits of advice that can prepare you to enter a job/career fair on a good note and get the most out of it.

I recently became a Presidential Management Fellow (PMF) finalist, and as a finalist, you are offered a chance to attend a hiring fair to learn and apply for open positions in the federal government. Although, my experience will not directly correlate to the experience(s) you may have in your respective job fairs, I did learn a lot and found that there are some specific steps you can take to make the most out of any job/career fair you may experience.

Here are five nuggets of knowledge to help you get through the next career fair you attend.

1) GO!: This may seem extremely obvious, but go! The first step in being proactive and covering all your bases is attending the seemingly large career fairs. Don’t be afraid of them. You can make the experience personal and you can make sure you stand out in the crowd.

2) Come Prepared: There are certain steps you can and should take before attending a job/career fair. Most job fair coordinators will have a rough idea of which organizations and representatives will attend. In the case of the PMF hiring fair, we were given a rough estimate of the agencies and PMF coordinators who would be attending ahead of time. If for some reason this isn’t made readily available to you, take the initiative to reach out to those conducting the job/career fairs. You will find that the extra effort will set you apart from other candidates who walk in blindly.

Why is this important? With that knowledge I was not only able to plan ahead and map out with whom I wanted to speak with, it also led me to make enough copies of my resume to hand out to those I had identified. From there, I began preparing my elevator speech.

3) Make and Practice Your Elevator Speech: If you don’t already have one, make one now (job fair or no)! What is an elevator speech, you ask? It is a description of who you are. You want to be able to make it short enough for you to pitch to someone in the time you would have riding on an elevator. However, the tricky part is not to just whiz through it like Speedy Gonzalez. You have to be calm and collected. Equally as important, you need to understand your audience and tailor your spiel in each case.

4) Tailor Your Spiel: Your elevator speech needs to be tailored to the agency/person you are speaking to. The key is to not simply recount your resume. If you are like me, you have two sets of resumes. One recalls all my professional experiences, while the other refers to my jobs as a waitress, etc. Depending on who I am speaking with, I may incorporate my previous work in customer experience as a waitress. In other cases, you may want to refer to your leadership positions in an organization.

All experiences are fair game here! Just make sure you don’t go off topic and ramble on about everything you’ve ever done. Make sure you highlight the skills or tasks you managed in either the job you are referring to or the leadership position you held in college.

5) Prepare for the Unexpected: The night before the PMF hiring fair, my father randomly asked me to give him my elevator speech. Lo and behold, my father had once again taught me a valuable lesson: don’t forget to be prepared for the unexpected. So, be prepared for anything, Not only did the PMF hiring fair end up having more agencies there than I had anticipated (thank goodness I printed more resumes than I had planned for in point 2), but I ended up having a different experience every time I spoke to another person.

In one instance, I was speaking casually with an employee of an organization in line (as we waited to go through security to enter the hiring fair). One thing led to another, and I ended up getting interviewed as we stood in line! Once again, proving you need to be prepared- at all times!

Therefore, go to the next job fair, do your best to come prepared, and talk to as many people as you can. In the end, the important thing is to remember you are awesome! You are unique and you have something different to offer than anybody else. The goal of any job process is to bring that to light and taking these steps can help you make the most out of any job/career fair.

This post is part of GovLoop’s millennial blog series, First 5.

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Margaret Heimann

Great tips! From the agency side of things, I would say that the one universal question asked will be along the lines of "Tell us about your interest in the position." If you have the opportunity to interview at a job fair, make sure that you have a few minutes to review the job announcement (or notes that you made right after talking to the recruiter) before the interview to ensure that you can answer this question. It is beneficial to have a specific example of something from the announcement that piqued your interest. It helps us to know that you are truly interested in our organization, not just obtaining a position anywhere. It also tends to be the first question, so it can start the interview off on the right foot.