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Maximize your career fair experience

On Monday, I wrote a post examining the value of career fairs. I was pretty critical. I wrote the post for two reasons. The first was to share a perspective that some students may agree with. The second reason, and the more important of the two, was to generate a discussion that would hopefully help students and employers learn how to get the most out of career fairs.

In response to my article, Adrian Berg, the Assistant Director of Employer Relations And Marketing at the University of Toronto Mississauga Career Centre, wrote us a great comment on our article sharing tips on how to maximize the potential of career fairs. Below is Adrian’s comment in full. For employers that are considering career fair participation, it provides a balancing overview of the potential value that students can gain from visiting the fair and your booth in particular.

Although it’s true that many students leave career fairs disappointed, there are also many students who find them to be a valuable experience (information from a survey conducted after our last major career fair shows that 89% of students would recommend the fair to their friends).

The key is preparation. Just showing up in jeans and t-shirt, asking reps “What do you do?” is unlikely to add much value to your job searching efforts. Researching the organizations in advance, preparing an effective 20-30 second business introduction and dressing professionally will help you stand out from the crowd and be noticed by the recruiters. Bring along a professionlly made business card and hand it to the employer after you speak with them, and be sure to ask them for one too. Make a visit to your campus Career Centre a priority in the weeks before the fair, to get any help you need on how to prepare so you can make the most of the fair.

The article states that many companies attending career fairs are not hiring. While this may be the case at some fairs, it certainly has not been our experience at the University of Toronto Mississauga, where pretty much all organizations that are attend are currently recruiting (we publish this information in advance in a fair guide, available to students both online and at the fair). But even if they are actively recruiting, students should not expect that the act of attending a fair will bring a job by itself, but rather it’s just one part of an effective job search. Having dozens of employers on campus is a great opportunity to ask questions that provide information beyond what is available on their websites. Students can then use this information to their advantage, by tailoring their resume and cover letter or demonstrating this knowledge when following up with the reps after the fair via email or in an interview.

Not only are fairs an excellent opportunity to build relationships with reps from organizations you may be interested in working for, they’re also a great opportunity to speak with reps from firms that you may not have even considered. Consider this comment from one of our recent graduates: “It really opened my eyes to the diverse types of industries and jobs that are truly available. For example, I always knew I was interested in marketing but I hadn’t considered grocery retail until I stopped at the Loblaw booth at the UTM Career Centre Career Expo in my second year.”

But don’t just attend the career fair and think you’ve done your networking. Most Career Centres also offer a number of employer information sessions, industry panels and/or networking events through the year. Attending these will provide additional networking opportunities, and who knows, you may just run into the same hiring reps at these other events where you can take your relationship building to the next level!

2 Comments

  1. I am still on the fence with the whole idea of the career fair. I recently attended a career fair in Toronto and found it to be completely useless. It is first important to note that I am Public Relations & Corporate Communications (and recently completely a grad program) and should be able to get a job at a wide variety of organizations. I came prepared in office attire with resumes and a large portfolio of my previous work. I am aware that not all organizations have openings but are there to help network and education the interested parties. I began my search with a shoe and clothing company that is located in malls across North America. I tried to ask all the right questions but was continuously shot down by the representative. All she could offer me was “I sell shoes and if you want to look for a job, check our website.” She was not able to discuss the corporate environment or benefits of the company, she genuinely looked confused under the layers of make up she was sporting. The next booth is a cell phone and network provider who continued to encourage me to join one of the stores and sell phones… and once again could not answer any of my prying questions. So in the end I left disappointed with the experience. I felt it was more of a job fair and no one could help me. This was my experience of one fair, others may be different.

  2. Interesting post – I wrote about this for my university’s career blog. Feel free to check it out: http:blogs.mcgill.ca/caps

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