[05.28.10]
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How To Choose A Career Or Job Fair

job fair, career fair, job search, networking, interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Career fairs (or job fairs as they are sometimes called) are not created equal.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the pros and cons of going to a career or job fair.  They are not for everyone.

And once you’ve decided to attend one, it is time to get choosy.  Just because you have time, doesn’t mean you should attend them all.

So, how do you choose?  Well, it may be that there is only one game in town.  Your choice is made for you.

But if you live in a major U.S. city, you will likely have many to choose from.  So here’s my criteria to use:

1.  Who is the organizer?

Some events are organized by companies.  Some by industry or local networking groups.  It is important that the organizer be a big enough group to attract quality companies and to pull together a well-planned event.  Look for evidence of “organization” such as agendas, announcements and the like.

2.  Who are the sponsors?

Is someone (a sponsor of the event) hoping to market to you?  Nothing wrong with that really as long as that sponsorship doesn’t get in the way of your objective.  And doesn’t become a distraction.  Determine if the sponsors are related to and supportive of the event’s true purpose.  If not, you may see more of that sponsor than you’d like on event day . . .

3.  What companies have publicly committed to attending?

This is a big one.  And often times, event organizers will not announce companies planning to attend.  Either because they are still working on getting commitments or the companies don’t want to be public about it.  Fearing that they’ll be taking calls and e-mails from anxious job seekers in advance.  If information is available, how many of the companies are on your target list?  And, also important, what types of jobs are available?  At what levels?  And what pay?

4.  Who from each company will be attending?

This is not always easy information to get prior to the fair.  But it will help you in preparation.  And will help you to determine whether the value in attending is there.  Is it a “resume collector” or someone with whom you can actually network and influence?  Some would say that even a resume collector is worth meeting.  And I agree that a nice approach to anyone associated with a target company is worth trying.

5.  Where is the event being held?

Is it at a sponsor’s office?  A hotel ballroom?  Perhaps at a target company’s HQ?  Location matters because you can get a sense for the size of the crowd expected (i.e. how many others will be there trying to influence the same people).  You can also get a sense of the event’s focus.  An event held at your target company’s HQ, for example, will let you get a peek at their culture or allow you to meet a few additional people.

6.  Is there time for networking and is it structured?

Some career fairs don’t have structure.  You simply walk in the door, get a badge and walk at your own pace around the room.  Standing in line at tables that fit your objectives, meeting with someone for a few minutes and moving along to the next table.  A good event will structure your time a little better.  Allowing you to schedule time with reps from your target companies vs. waiting inefficiently for someone to come available.

7.  Are there breakout sessions or speakers?

I like events with multi-dimensional benefit.  Because the prep, drive and attendance time needs to pay off.  So if I can hear a speaker and get a few ideas.  Or learn some new interview or networking techniques via a good breakout discussion.  To me, that’s a bonus.

8.  Is there a fee to attend?

If not, be ready for a bigger crowd and more sponsor messages.  But free events can be a great value.  Do not let this issue drive your decision.  But be conscious of this piece.  If there is a fee, what will you get in return?  Less competition, better speakers, more one-on-one time with each company?  Here you can decide if those are valuable to you.

9.  Has anyone in your network been before?

If the fair is a regular event, the odds are that many veteran job seekers can tell you very quickly if the value is there.  So take advantage of your network here and get the real skinny.  Especially if it is a paid event.  Ask them these questions and the important one: Was it worth it?

10.  What online organization and planning can you see?

How did you learn about the event?  Friends?  From the sponsor?  A good event should have an online component.  A place to go to learn more.  If they don’t and if the only way you can learn more is to refer to the one-page handout, you may be heading to an event that is less organized.  But, again, ask questions.  If there is a phone number, give them a call.

Now, clearly not every event will meet these hurdles.  Some questions cannot be answered based on the data you’ll have.  And I’m not suggesting you eliminate every event by being over-critical.  Or spending too much time deciding.

But I am saying to think about where you spend your time during job search.  It matters.

And so do you.

Also read:  How To Prepare For A Career Or Job Fair

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Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Career Networking

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