Why Attend Career Fairs?

By Tanya Kett, Career Advisor McMaster University and Jillian Perkins-Marsh, Alumni Career Counsellor

Every year, students and alumni ask us this question: “Why should I attend Career Fairs?”

Some say that when they last attended a job fair, employers told them to apply online, so they felt it was pointless to attend. If you have similar sentiments, I urge you to keep reading.

Employers want job seekers to attend Career Fairs in person. Sure, they may tell you to apply online (it does save paper), but the real reason they are there is to get a sense of the person behind the resume that is submitted online — YOU.

Who are you? What do you have to offer? Why are you unique? Are you personable? Do you seem genuinely interested? What do you know about them? Answers to these questions can only be conveyed in an application to a certain extent. Make a real connection so that when your application does come across their desk, your name gets noticed.

How can you differentiate your application from other ones in the application pile?

Do your research. Explore the event website to find out the list of employers confirmed to attend so that you can get some research done ahead of time. For McMaster-run career fairs, always search for information on our website or on OSCARplus. The largest Career Fair in Hamilton, Connect to Careers is coming up February 5, 2019.

Tailor your elevator pitch. Make eye contact and shake their hand. Don’t just walk by their table or ask if they are taking resumes. Be bold, assertive, and with some confidence, introduce yourself. Tell them what you do or want to do, what you have to offer and why you are interested in them. Customize your pitch based on the audience and what they are interested in.

Ask useful questions. Using the organization research you did, prepare some thoughtful questions to generate conversation after your introductions. “I read that the company is expanding in next year. What impact will that have on your hiring needs?”; “What skills do you most value for this position?”; “What makes a resume appealing from your organization’s perspective?” These are the key pieces of information you need in order maximize your chances to be a successful candidate. Ensure you incorporate their suggestions into your application before you apply online. They may invite you to leave a resume with them and that is fine; but, you can submit a more customized version if there is also an online application option.

Be an active listener. Really listen to what they have to say; it is easy to start thinking ahead to what you will say next, but concentrate on being in the moment and let the conversation flow. After the conversation is over, jot down some notes before you forget. Remember to also be courteous to other people waiting for the recruiter.

Be ready to dig deeper. If you encounter an organization of interest that is not hiring in the area you are interested in or the recruiter is only hiring for positions that don’t match your background, don’t despair. Remember that organizations have many diverse roles and hiring timelines are often not predictable. They may be there to hire IT, but the organization will also have client service, marketing and so on.

Seize the opportunity to share a little about why you are interested in the organization and ask them to refer you to recruiter in your desired area who you could talk with after the fair. Here is a story of a Mac alumni that did just that:

“I researched about the companies I was interested in, their culture, growth opportunities and online reviews. Using all the information, I tailored my own story on how my interests and skills fit into the company and its culture.

On the day of, I made sure I was dressed well, arrived early and had multiple copies of my resume. On meeting the recruiter, I briefly introduced myself and then first asked questions to show my curiosity about the company and then spoke about how my skills and interests fit into the requirements of the company and also the company culture.

Presenting yourself and demonstrating solid communication skills is key to give a positive and confident impression to the recruiter. I then requested to connect on LinkedIn. Once we became a connection on LinkedIn, I sent a message on LinkedIn thanking for their time at the fair and again reminding of my interest in the company. When a suitable opportunity became available, I was offered an interview and successfully landed a job at my desired company.” BEng, Alumni, 2016

Bring business cards. Business networking cards can be useful to leave behind to help recruiter remember you. They must contain your contact information, but consider including a few key points about your career interests, skills and/or qualifications. View some best practices on our tip sheet. If you want to go a little further, match the look of your resume with your card.

Invite to connect on LinkedIn. Visit your new contact’s profile and send your request from there, so you have option to ‘Add a Note.’ When you use the app, it doesn’t allow for this function, so use your computer. Reference something from your conversation when you invite them to connect and thank them for their time in speaking with you at the event.

After you attend the event and employ the tactics above, you are ready to submit that online application. Don’t forget to mention that you spoke with so and so at the Career Fair and/or Company Recruitment Event. When you do so, offer something you learned from them in your cover letter as part of why you are interested in applying.

Now imagine you did none of the above, just attended, had a few conversations and just applied online. Which application would you be most interested in?

For further information, our Career Fair Prep tip sheet is available.