Job Fair Extras

In addition to the employer booths and other information stands, many job fairs offer extra features, such as resume reviews, mock interviews and seminars. Of course you want to take advantage of these.

Here’s a rundown on the kinds of extras you might expect and how to make the most of them.

Seminars. Short workshops are one of the most common features of a job fair. The speakers can range from so-so to terrific, with topics covering anything from job search strategies to a look at specific careers. In specialized fairs, the topic may have particular value for the intended audience. For example, at fairs targeted toward health care professionals, you may see short classes that count toward a nurse’s annual requirement for continuing education units (CEUs).

Since the seminars will be offered during the job fair, you won’t be able to attend all of them – or you’ll miss speaking with the company representatives at the booths. If possible, make your selection in the days ahead of the fair by reviewing the list of speakers and topics. Then you can better plan when to arrive to allow time for everything you want to do.

Once inside the seminar, remember to take notes and ask questions. Another tip is to talk with the speaker after the session, if you think he or she may have more ideas to share with you.

Resume Reviews. These are tricky. You may have noticed already that everyone seems to have an opinion about your resume and none of them are the same. If you’re not careful, you could spend every day switching up your resume and never get it out the door. This problem is compounded at job fairs by two factors: The person reviewing your resume has only a few moments to do it, in a highly distracting setting and, perhaps worse, he or she may be relatively inexperienced with resumes, as these tables are sometimes staffed by willing-but-not-so-able volunteers.

Main advice? Take advantage of the resume service if you have real doubts about your resume, or if you have heard the reviewers are quite good. In either of those cases you might learn something of value. Otherwise, you might stand in line a while only to have someone move the commas around instead of improving things.

Mock Interviews. This is an entirely different story from the resume review in that even an inexperienced interviewer can teach you something about interviewing. When they’re offered at job fairs, mock interviews tend to be short, one-on-one conversations in a curtained-off area with someone playing the part of an employer. This person could be a career counselor, general volunteer, or even a human resources professional from a local company. In some cases the interviewer will use a list of prewritten questions; in other cases he or she will simply converse with you, slipping in the occasional interview question.

Since this won’t be a real interview, with an actual company to research, there’s no point in trying to prepare yourself for the session. Focus instead on really listening to the other person, relaxing into the conversation, and giving short but interesting answers.

Remember that the number of interviewers will be limited, so you may need to sign up in advance of the fair, or immediately upon arriving in order to secure a slot. One last tip: Be sure to find out the interviewer’s “real” identity, in case he or she could become a good networking contact as well.

Employer Panels. Occasionally you will see that a group of employers has been scheduled to talk during the course of a job fair. This is a can’t-miss opportunity, as it gives you a chance to see multiple companies represented in one conversation. Even if the companies themselves don’t interest you, the information they share probably will. It’s common for these sessions to cover such topics as what the companies hope to see in candidates, which jobs they expect to have open in the coming months, and overall trends in their industries.

To prepare for this session, try to learn in advance who will be speaking. Then you can research those companies to discover what role you could play there, or which departments you want to know more about. During the session itself use the Q and A period to request more information about that role or department – in a general way, of course. After the session, you can then introduce yourself to one or more of the speakers and secure permission to follow up by email.

Application Tables and Rest Areas. Often one and the same, these are tables and chairs set aside to give job seekers a chance to rest, review materials, and possibly complete applications. Strategically speaking, resting and reviewing materials are a good idea; completing applications might not be. If you know that a job you desire is open and that the representative will be reviewing applications in the next few days to make a hire, then of course you should do the paperwork. But if the application is “for the files” you would be better off putting it in your tote to mail back later. This will preserve your job fair time for conversations with employers, while ensuring that the application itself is done with accuracy and neatness.

One last tip about the rest area: it can be a great location for networking. Although you might feel “all talked out,” and prefer to sit by yourself, resist the urge. A few minutes of conversation with other job seekers can yield important feedback about specific employers. You may also find yourself sitting next to a recruiter or booth rep. While you don’t want to monopolize that person’s break, you can make contact and reconnect later in the exhibit hall, where your conversation might be friendlier because of your first connection.

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