10 ways to wow job-fair recruiters
As candidates inundate employers at these events, how can you stand out? Fortune's Anne Fisher explains.
(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I'll be getting my MBA in the spring, and I'd like to meet some prospective employers at a job fair that will be held on campus in a couple of weeks. The only problem is, because of my work schedule, I can only go to the fair for an hour or so. (It's a five-hour event with at least 50 companies expected to show up.) Is it even worth bothering, with so little time? If so, how can I get the most out of it? -Tick Tock
Dear Tick Tock: Yes, it's worth going, but you'll have to put in a bit of extra thought beforehand. First, get a list of the companies who are slated to send recruiters, and pick a few - say, between three and six - who interest you the most. Then rank them in order of your preference. Obviously, this requires that you think hard about why you'd like to work for these particular companies, which will come in handy if a recruiter happens to ask.
Next, have an event strategy, advises Lynne Sarikas, director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University.
"Don't start at the first table by the door and work your way around the room. You may spend too much time waiting in line and miss the recruiters you most need to see," says Sarikas. "Instead, prioritize which companies you care about most and concentrate on meeting those at the top of your list."
When you arrive, "quickly scope out the room to see if one of your top-priority companies has no line or a very short one and, if so, go there first," Sarikas suggests. "But do be willing to wait a little for those most important to you if you have to."
For anyone planning to attend a job fair, including your classmates who may have the luxury of spending a whole day there, Salikas offers these additional tips:
Get ready to sell yourself. Have a one-minute "elevator pitch" prepared so you can introduce yourself to employers and quickly give them the headlines of who you are, what you're looking for in a career, and what makes you unique.
Put your best foot forward. First impressions count. "Wear your best business attire. A professional-looking, conservative business suit is appropriate," says Sarikas. "Avoid heavy fragrances and flashy or too-casual clothing."
Don't be afraid to be yourself. "Every MBA could use the same set of clichéd phrases to describe him- or herself: motivated, hard-working, goal-oriented, and so on," Sarikas observes. "You want to let recruiters know what is unique about you."
Educate yourself about the employers you'll be meeting. What do they do? Who are their customers? What recent press coverage can you find that touches on issues they face or trends in their industries? What types of positions are they seeking to fill, and how do you fit in?
A visit to each corporate web site, and a Google search on each company, can yield loads of useful information.
"Differentiate yourself from others by being knowledgeable," Sarikas says.
Remember who your 'customer' is. "You are selling yourself to the employer, so don't focus exclusively on you," Sarikas says. "Talk about what you can do for them. How do your skills and experience help them address a business need? Insofar as you are able to, know what's important to them, and tell about a prior experience or accomplishment that relates to that."
Bring an ample supply of resumes and business cards. "Make sure your resume is perfect - no typos or other bloopers," says Sarikas.
Follow up within 24 hours. "This is critical. Bear in mind that these recruiters will have met many students that day, so you need to help them remember you," notes Sarikas. "Send a handwritten note so you don't get lost in the recruiter's e-mail inbox. Make your note polite and professional, thanking them for their time and briefly mentioning what interested you most in the conversation you had."
No doubt about it, this will be a lot to pack into an hour - but if you prepare thoroughly beforehand, it could be a highly profitable hour indeed.
Readers, have you ever gotten a job offer after meeting a corporate recruiter at a job fair? What worked (or didn't) for you? If you are a recruiter, what advice do you have to help job fair attendees stand out from the crowd? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog.