AMY LINDGREN: Planning for Job Fair Success

Amy Lindgren

Here comes spring, and that means something special to career counselors: Job fair season!

These are the get-togethers that occur in hotels, community centers and school gyms everywhere, with the purpose of introducing job seekers and potential employers. Since I’ve never seen carnival rides or even a bag of peanuts at any of these fairs, I probably wouldn’t bring a date or expect to win a stuffed animal.

What I would bring is a satchel full of resumes and a high dose of optimism. To find job fairs near you, check with state workforce centers and job agencies, or just plug in the words “job fair” into any search engine. Job seekers are not charged to attend, but pre-registration may be requested, so you’ll want to get the details before you head out the door.

You’ll have a few more things to consider as well, to help ensure you succeed in your mission to meet potential employers. Follow the steps below and you should do well.

Prepare your paperwork. The main document you’ll need is a resume so now’s the time to update or create yours. Ideally, I favor a resume style for job fairs that’s designed to “pop” for easily distracted readers. When you remember that the other person may be interacting with several people at once, you’ll appreciate that small print and densely packed pages aren’t so helpful.

Abandon the idea of a one-page resume and strive for whatever length it takes to give you room for a headline, large job titles easily seen down the left margin, and a neatly-bulleted strengths list readers can “grab” quickly with their eyes.

Now is also the time to update your LinkedIn profile. If you make successful connections with recruiters at a job fair, you should assume they will look for you on LinkedIn at their first opportunity – perhaps while you’re still at the event.

Another item that comes in handy at a job fair is a business card. Since you’re planning to hand out resumes, a card may not be critical at the employer booths. But having a card to give fellow job seekers or others in the general meeting space can make networking much easier.

Plan your attire. As a general rule, you’ll fit in well with “casual professional” attire. Let your industry be your guide: Dress a little better for the fair than you would for a day at work in your field. For men or women, that means auto techs can come in pressed jeans, software coders can choose khakis, managers can wear a sport coat or blazer over pressed pants, etc.

As for accessories, I’d choose comfortable shoes and a functional shoulder bag that leaves your hands free. Anything else is personal taste.

Set your strategy. Probably the least effective thing you can do is to attend a job fair without first identifying your goals for the day. “To get a job” doesn’t count, by the way. It’s not unheard of, but neither is it common for people to get offers at these events. This is a meet-and-greet situation, with the more serious conversation happening in the days after the folding tables have been put away.

A better goal would be to meet specific employers in person. To do this, review a list of participating organizations the night before, then list your top five, followed by a B squad of five more. Check each employer’s web site, including their careers page, and gather data about their overall mission and size so you’re ready for conversations the next day.

If the event has a pre-registry, take advantage of the opportunity to upload your resume. This lets you reach more employers than just those you plan to see in person.

Once you’ve arrived at the job fair, take a moment to make a “route,”, then watch for a lull at each table before approaching to introduce yourself. In this conversation, keep your focus on the other person so you can make a good connection for later followup. Get their card, hand off your resume, ask which positions they’re recruiting for, tell them your job goal and ask for advice…this is about as much as you can hope to accomplish at each table.

Once you return home, review your notes, then compose your follow-up letters for each person you’ve met. Be sure to attach your resume, and ask for the opportunity to meet again. Even if they said there’d be no openings, remember that having a new contact in a goal company is a valuable takeaway. Determine to stay in touch and you may be pleasantly surprised when they think of you first for openings that do come up.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.