Job Fair Networking – Making Conversation at Job Fairs

So you made it to the job fair. Now what? Assuming you’ve got your plans mapped out and you know which booths you’re visiting, the next step is to approach those booths and start talking to hiring managers and other employer representatives. And listening. It’s that easy…except when it isn’t. Here are a few tips to help you over the rough spots.

Man starting conversation and shaking hands at networking event

1. Look at the literature, but not too much. You want to initiate conversation, not stand there reading. Brochures that describe the company and its products will be good bets. Pick one up, look at it for a few seconds, then dive in: “So your company makes widgets? Where are the widget plants located? Has it been a good year for widgets?”

2. Find out who you’re speaking with. “What part of the company do you work for? How do you like it? Have you been there long?”

3. Ask for advice about getting started with the company. “I saw on the web that your company hires a lot of engineers. I’m more of a project manager, but I can work in several capacities. Which department do you think is growing the most?”

4. Don’t let the representative brush you off. If your questions are met with “You should go to our Web site” explain that you’ve been there, found it helpful, but now want a little more information. Then ask, in your most charming way, “Who should I talk to in the company to learn more about the xxx department? Do you think it would be possible to arrange a meeting?”

As you can see, all of these tips are based on a single premise: Ask a question, then listen. If you’ve been practicing an elevator speech or other canned pitch, now’s the time to let that go. The last thing a booth rep at a job fair needs to hear is another run-on sentence about how much you can do for the company. Since you know that most people attending the fair will not connect with a solid job lead – there are just too many job seekers relative to the number of leads available – your conversation is better spent making a real connection and discovering who to talk with later.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss your skills and background; just don’t make them the center of the conversation. In some ways, you should find this strategy less stressful than one where you feel judged by how well you give a spiel.

Ready for a few more tips?

– Get the person’s name and contact information. There will usually be business cards on the table, but if not, you can simply ask, “Can I email you later with a couple more questions?”

– Never vent – ever, about anything. Carping about the weather, the economy, your own layoff, or the bad lighting at the job fair are all off-limits.

– Make notes before you forget the details of your discussion. You’ll want to refer back to parts of the conversation in future contacts.

– If others are at the booth, listen in and absorb whatever you can from the discussion before joining in.

– Keep moving. If you’ve spent 10 or 15 minutes at a booth, that’s plenty. You don’t want to overstay your welcome, even if you and the rep seem to be hitting it off.

– Send a follow up letter a few days after the job fair, which gives he or she enough time to unpack from the fair. An email with a subject line that says “Thanks for your help at the job fair” has a good chance of being opened. In the note itself, say thank you, ask any questions you may have, and explain the kind of work you’re hoping to find. Drop your resume into the body of the email if you can, to make it more immediately accessible.

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