Master the Career Fair: Hook, Line and Sinker!

I’ll be heading to Houston to attend the National Black MBA Conference in a few weeks.  I first attended this annual gathering a couple of years ago when it was in Atlanta and I was blown away by the number of companies that set up shop at the Career Exposition eager to connect with management talent.  This is a career fair on steroids!  The networking opportunities for MBA alumni, students and companies at a conference like this are amazing.  But, even small career fairs can be intimidating for the uninitiated.  The fall is a prime time for these affairs so here are some tips on how to maximize your time at a job fair:

Embarking on a career fair without a focus would be like going fishing without bait on your hook.  Employers send recruiters to screen interested candidates for possible openings in their organizations.  Often there are long lines of candidates waiting to talk with representatives of a company.  It is the recruiter’s task to quickly discern where in their company this person might fit so they can make a follow up connection.  If you don’t present your focus quickly and succinctly, the recruiter does not have time to figure it out for you.  If you know where in their company you would best fit, you make their job easy.  Present the right bait and you have a chance of catching an interview!

Some career fairs are humongous.  There are hundreds of fishing holes and it’s up to you to pick the ones that are most likely to have the right kind of fish in them.  Go prepared!  When you register for a fair you get access to the list of organizations that will have booths set up.  Research which companies fit what you are looking for and which ones actually have roles (not necessarily openings or postings) similar to the one for which you are looking. Do an Advanced People Search on LinkedIn using title and company name or use the resources listed on the ACS Employer Research page to help in this endeavor.  Knowing where the fish are biting will help you plan a rewarding trip.

Before you go to the career fair, identify connections you may have at the company and reach out to them to get inside information.  They can help you highlight the right information or ask the right questions.  If you’ve ever hired a fishing guide, you know they can get you to the secret fishing holes quickly – their “local knowledge” is indispensable.  Insiders might even connect you with the recruiters BEFORE the fair so you can arrange a personal meeting outside the chaos of the large ballroom.

Practice your techniques and check your tackle box before heading out for the main event.  Approach the career fair as you would an important interview.  Practice your pitch, prepare targeted resumes (in addition to the one you send in at registration), get your suit pressed and shine your shoes.  Even if you aren’t employed, bring business cards so you can exchange them with people you meet along the way.

Set realistic expectations — it is unlikely you will get a job offer at a career fair.  But these events provide a forum to meet human representatives of companies and make an impression, opening up opportunities for future conversations.  Remember, it’s your job as the candidate to make it easy for them to match your qualifications to their needs.  Preparation and research will help you make the most of an event.  Done correctly, perhaps you’ll catch a fellow WAHOO!

Let Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services help you manage your career and prepare for all aspects of job transitions.  Contact us to set up an appointment with an alumni career counselor.


Upcoming Career Fairs open to MBA Alumni:

National Black MBA  Conference and Exposition         Sept. 10-14, 2013              Houston, TX

Asian MBA Leadership Conference & Career Exposition     Sept. 19-21. 2013    New York, NY

National Society of Hispanic MBAs                 Oct.  10-12, 2013   San Antonio, TX

Service Academy Career Conferences              Nov. 21-22, 2013               San Antonio, TX


Connie Dato English  MBA ’91,  Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business


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