Are Job Fairs a Waste of Time?

career fairAs a recruiter, I am asked to participate in job fairs all the time. Unless it is one where my community is involved, I rarely attend. Why? Because the odds of the perfect candidate stepping forward for a current job I'm trying to fill is pretty low. Why, then, don't I go just to meet candidates for future opportunities? Because by the time I might have a job for them, they likely would have been hired elsewhere. Plus, I do this throughout the year with more targeted networking.

Many other hiring managers feel the same way. If the fair is very specific to my industry or jobs, there is a greater potential; but in general, job fairs bring in as many job seekers as possible. So, should job seekers go to job fairs?

What to expect from job fairs

Many job fairs stick to retail or entry-level jobs. In other words, lower salaries. This is typically not the forum for middle- to upper-management jobs or specialized skill sets. Many hotels, retail chains, insurance companies, and others with generic entry-level or management-trainee jobs can find candidates who have basic skills to meet the job. If this is your interest, you'll have plenty of options. If you are searching for anything more specific, you may be disappointed. There are typically not "dream jobs" available.

Networking at job fairs is challenging

Companies and recruiters need to meet hundreds of candidates in a short period of time. So they will have a laser-tuned focus on finding exactly what they need. You have a small window of opportunity to capture their attention and convince them you are a good fit. You have to present your case perfectly, as they will have many others to compare to that same day. Standing out and being memorable is almost impossible in this setting. Obviously, networking your way to hiring managers through your own contacts and being granted even an informal interview are much more effective.

Should I even bother to go?

Depends on the job you're willing to take. You can pick and choose which fairs to attend based on the attendee lists. If you can find industry-specific (health care, technology) ones, you might have better luck.

But there are reasons to go to generic job fairs that may apply to your situation:

  • It is a good forum for practicing your "elevator pitch" on who you are and why they should hire you. Try different versions and see what kind of responses you get.
  • It is a good opportunity to get feedback on your résumé. Feel free to ask if it is not offered -- you have nothing to lose.
  • It is a chance to meet someone (face-to-face!) who works at a company that you're interested in learning more about. You can attempt to network with this person to explain you are interested in other jobs at the company and ask for a contact to connect with.
  • There may be follow-up seminars or meetings available to network further with company.
  • Many companies will put your resume into their company database and you might hear back from them someday (however, timing may not be perfect).

It's all about expectations

When I go to a flea market or art fair, I expect to come home with nothing. I only buy what I like. I don't feel bad about coming back empty-handed. A job fair is the same drill. If you have the right mindset going in, you might be pleasantly surprised by getting a little further in your job search. Like any job search, you need to use all avenues available to you -- just know that other networking activities may be a lot more valuable in the long run.

Next:Keeping It Real When Looking for a New Job >>

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