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ask a career coach

Ciaran Griffin

The question

I'm attending a job fair and I want to know how I can best prepare myself, what I need to bring (résumés, business cards, etc.) and what I can expect. How do job fairs work and what are my chances of gaining employment from one of them?

The answer

Job fairs are hiring events organized by business, trade or human resource associations, specific businesses, business schools, or public-sector organizations, where a number of prospective employers purchase booths and send representatives and sometimes guest speakers to promote their organizations or companies to prospective employees and managers. The whole point of job fairs is for employers to attract the best and brightest candidates to fill current and future positions.

In order to prepare for the job fair you will want to be clear on what type of positions you are looking for, in what sectors, and in which companies or organizations. You will also want to find a job fair or fairs where these companies or organizations will have a presence.

Once you have selected the job fair to attend, then go online or get a copy of the schedule, which outlines which companies will be there and what events are planned, such as guest speakers. Develop a strategic action plan that includes which companies and individuals you are most interested in speaking to , how much time you will spend with each representative, and what you will want to leave with them.Be prepared so you do not get overwhelmed and distracted by the number of employers and events: You want to make the best use of your time at the fair. Networking, making a positive first impression on prospective employers, and developing key contacts for follow-up after the event will be your key priorities.

Do your research on the companies/organizations that will be at the job fair. Concentrate on the companies that you are most interested in working for. Check out the company website, annual reports, the organizational chart(s), position descriptions, special planning documents, and any relevant newspaper or online news articles.

Update your résumé so that it reflects your current experience, objectives and interests. Make sure that you customize your résumés and your cover letters to match the needs and the positions advertised by the companies that you are interested in.

Update your personal website. Clean up your social media sites such as Facebook, Myspace, etc., ensuring that you remove any inappropriate photos and comments. Update business websites such as LinkedIn to ensure your profile is current and reflective of your education, job experience, skills, and talents, as well as what you are looking for in a position.

Practice your presentation and interview skills with a career coach, counsellor, friend or family member. Videotape them and get candid, constructive feedback on your appearance, your body language, your tone, your voice, and your presentation style. Take notes and ask for clarification on suggested changes.

At the job fair, introduce yourself to the company representatives and tell them you are interested in working with them. You can also indicate that you have done your research on the company. Ask them what positions they are recruiting for and what their ideal candidates are for the positions.

Follow up with all the company representatives you meet with an e-mail and a response letter (and a résumé if you did not give them one at the fair), indicating what a pleasure it was to meet them and that you are looking forward to a formal interview and the opportunity of working with the company. You will want to also include a brief summary of your conversation and what you can do for the company. Make sure that you let them know why you are the best candidate for the position(s) they are looking to fill.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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