You see postings for career fairs all the time, and they seem like good ideas. At its best, a career fair offers job seekers an opportunity to meet with recruiters face-to-face and to sell themselves beyond their resumes. With so many companies in one place, it doesn’t seem far-fetched that you will impress at least one recruiter and get a job. But does it really work that way?
The answer really depends on the situation. I, myself, have been unemployed and anxious to find a job. When I saw the companies that would be attending one particular career fair in NYC, I jumped at the opportunity. Dressed to impress, I arrived an hour early only to find a line of people that stretched around the block – countless faces staring at me to the point that I started feeling self-conscious. But I remained eager and waited patiently until the line finally started moving. I had multiple copies of my resume in hand, and I was ready to meet some recruiters. But it really didn’t matter. Most companies were ready to hire me…to work only for commission–selling construction vehicles or insurance, for example. Others were selling franchises – be your own boss. The remaining jobs were for positions I was way overqualified for, such as a clerk at Verizon Wireless stores. I’m not sure why I thought public relations recruiters would be there. Only one place seemed interested in hiring me. I remember being very excited about the interview, because I had nailed it. I had high hopes, only to never hear from them again – even after I made a follow-up call. Suddenly, I felt like I wasted a day I couldn’t get back.
Fast forward three years and I now work for Vault.com. Recently, I was in Washington D.C. for Vault’s 6 (I’m not writing this to advertise Vault. If I wanted to advertise Vault, I would tell you about the upcoming Diversity Career Expo for Finance on September 23 in New York City, but I’m not. I’m making a point about niche career fairs.) Hundreds of people came to the Renaissance Hotel, dressed to impress as I had several years ago. Only this time, many of them had a reason. Many of them had submitted their resumes and were selected for one-on-one interviews with various law firms and government agencies. Others entered the exhibition hall and engaged in productive meetings with recruiters. No one appeared rushed, and everyone seemed to be getting something from the experience. When I went around stealing swag, such as the cool fish key chain I got from Fish & Richardson, I discovered that they were very impressed with the candidates and were definitely looking at taking the next step with them. A career fair that works, I thought, and I was a part of it.
So, are career fairs worth it? The answer depends on you—the candidate—taking a few quick steps:
Find out more. Don’t go to a career fair just because it says you might land your next job there. Find out what companies will be present and then research those companies to find out more about them and the jobs they are looking to fill. If these companies are not offering the types of jobs you are looking for, and you’re not desperate to take any job at the moment, don’t waste your time.
Research the career fair. If a particular company puts on a career fair each year, find out if it is successful. A lot of people leave comments about whether they found a job or not. If the success rate seems impressive to you, it might be worth examining further. If all you read about are complaints, you might be more productive sending resumes and cover letters online.
What can the fair offer you? If you are still uncertain, but see that the fair will at least help you sharpen your interviewing skills, it might be worth going. You can benefit greatly from the practice and any possible feedback you might need.
How broad is the career fair? Large career fairs are hard to navigate, not to mention, they can be loud and crowded. You won’t really get a shot at selling yourself to Verizon when there are 200 people standing in front of you, holding you back from applying elsewhere, only for you to realize that they don’t have enough time to speak with you in-depth due to the volume of job applicants. That’s why niche career fairs are a better choice.
Are interviews available? Search for career fairs that offer candidates opportunities to interview with the employers at the fair. Booking an interview ahead of time for a position and employer in which you have interest will make the career fair worthwhile before you even walk through the door.
What are the networking opportunities? Some career fairs offer resume review, cocktail hours, lunch panels and meet-and-greets with professionals in the field. These types of activities may not result in an immediate job offer, but building your network can increase your odds of finding the right opportunity. Look for career fairs that go beyond resume-drops and instead foster relationship-building.
--Jon Minners, Vault.com