March 1, 2017
You may think a job or internship fair is all about walking away with a job offer or internships in hand. But while these fairs are an important part of your job search, they're even more valuable as vehicles to expand your professional network and learn more about your industry. You can increase your odds of making valuable connections by knowing what to expect at a job fair before you arrive.
Marisa Crowley, a former career advisor at Southern New Hampshire University, hosted a webinar recently and covered what she called the top myths about career and internship fairs, as well as the best ways to get the most out of a fair as possible. "Networking and information gathering are the primary features of career and internship fairs. The fair itself rarely involves a job offer but don't be discouraged," Crowley said. "It's best to be aware of this from the start so that you can have realistic expectations for the fair and know how to approach it strategically and make the most of the opportunities that it provides."
If you're new to the job search game, you may have some misconceptions about career and internship fairs that it would behoove you to correct.
"Career fairs provide a wealth of opportunity for professional exploration and development all in one place within a short amount of time," Crowley said. "There are very few other ways that you can build your network, practice interviewing and learn about potential job opportunities all at once and in the space of an hour or two all in one place."
Career fairs are not just a hotspot for people looking for a job or switching careers. Even if you love your job and never want to leave, these fairs are also a good place to learn about other companies in your field and meet other professionals in the industry. "If you're not actively seeking work or an internship ... these fairs can still be a great source of information and networking potential," Crowley said.
Going to a career or internship fair unprepared will not position you to have the most success. A little work ahead of time will pay dividends later. Before you go, you should:
You also shouldn't leave the job fair empty handed. When you head home, you should have a better sense of your career options, a fist full of business cards and brochures and, hopefully, more confidence talking to potential employers in a professional setting.
"After doing this over and over you'll feel more confident in your ability to handle professional situations and conversations and hopefully better prepared for future career fairs, networking events and job interviews," Crowley said.
There are certain signals employers are likely to pick up on that tell them you're not an ideal candidate. A short list of questions to avoid includes:
Lastly, you should use all the notes you jot down during your conversations to write thank you notes to each of the people you speak with at the fair. Email or regular mail are fine, but they should be sent out within a couple of days of the event, Crowley said. Writing your notes on the back of each person's business card makes it easy to keep track of who is who. Crowley said each note should thank the person for their time, reassert your interest in the field and their company and mention at least one specific part of your conversation. Then include your contact information and express an interest in talking to them again in the future.
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