Job Fair 101: What to wear, bring and ask - Northern Michigan's News Leader

Job Fair 101: What to wear, bring and ask

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When going to a job fair, plan to stay the entire day and see everyone. Yes, everyone. (©iStockphoto.com) When going to a job fair, plan to stay the entire day and see everyone. Yes, everyone. (©iStockphoto.com)

By Thomas P. Farley, Studio One Networks

We know all's fair in love and war, but what's fair at a job fair? Are certain questions off limits? What should you wear? How do you set yourself apart from the pack?

To get you the answers you need, Men's Life Today interviewed a trio of experts who make a career out of helping others find careers. These in-the-know people are Eric Winegardner, a vice president at Monster Worldwide, parent company of the Monster Web site; Allison Nawoj, corporate communications manager for the CareerBuilder Web site; and Andrew Cronan, human relations professional and executive director of career services at New York's Fordham University

Men's Life Today: Are companies that show up for job fairs really hiring or are they just trawling for resumes?

Cronan: In this economy, no corporation can afford to attend a career fair if it doesn't have jobs to offer.

MLT: What if the companies coming to the fair are not on my short list of places to work?

Cronan: Don't rule them out. Even if an employer is outside your current industry, you never know what positions the company may have available or how its representatives can help you.

MLT: What's the best way to prepare?

Nawoj: Visit the Web sites of participating companies, read their press releases and search local newspapers for information on them. Also scour job boards for openings at the respective companies. Arrive at the fair ready to speak about those specific positions and explain why you believe your skills match the job.

Cronan: Don't show up asking, "So what jobs do you have?" or worse, "What does your company do?" Also, to ease your nerves and get you in the habit of selling yourself, ask a friend or family member to help you practice your elevator speech -- a 30-second pitch that sums up your skills and offerings.

MLT: How long should I spend there?

Winegardner: Plan to stay the entire day and see everyone. Yes, everyone. You never know when a connection you've made will lead to a job. And make sure to also speak with the people waiting in line with you.

MLT: What should I wear?

Winegardner: Consider this your first interview. Dress at least one level above what you'd be wearing on the job.

Nawoj: Err on the side of conservative. You only have a few seconds to make a good first impression, so do it right.          

MLT: What should I bring?

Nawoj: Make sure you have plenty of updated resumes -- and make sure they are proofread and free of errors.

Winegardner: If you are exploring more than one sort of job, be sure to bring resumes tailored to each type of job you're seeking. Also bring business cards and don't forget to ask the interviewers for their cards. You don't necessarily need to bring references; in fact, keeping them aside can provide you with a good excuse to follow up.          

MLT: What's the best way to manage my time?

Winegardner: Begin with the companies you're least interested in. This will give you the chance to build your confidence and practice. Just don't wait too long to meet with the companies you really want to target. It will be harder to make a memorable impression on someone at the end of a long day.

MLT: How long should I expect with each recruiter?

Cronan: No more than five minutes, maybe less. Recruiters will decide within the first 45 seconds whether your resume is going into Pile A or Pile B and also whether it's going to the top or bottom of those piles. Make eye contact, use a firm handshake, speak clearly and have a rehearsed introduction ready to go. End your introduction with a question, which will help you engage the recruiters.

MLT: What if they ask about my salary requirements?

Cronan: It's a "gotcha" question. In all likelihood, they are trying to see how you handle uncomfortable situations. Stay calm and instead of answering directly, say you'd love to hold off on the compensation discussion until you can meet them for a follow-up. Likewise, you should not bring up salary yourself.

MLT: How should I wrap up the exchange?

Winegardner: Something along the lines of "I'd love to stay connected with you. What's the best way for me to do that?" If all has gone according to plan, you'll be well on your way to scheduling your second interview.

Thomas P. Farley is an etiquette and lifestyle expert who writes on career-related topics for Men's Life Today. He is also the editor of Modern Manners: The Thinking Person's Guide to Social Graces.

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