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Make a good first impression at job fair

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This month kicks off a new season of job fairs, which are important to students wanting to identify employment opportunities, expand their professional network and gather information about potential employers.

A recent poll on recruitment strategy reported that more than 70 per cent of organizations with human-resources departments rely on job fairs to find new employees. That means companies are scanning the crowd for talented individuals who are ready to be hired.

While thousands of students flock to job fairs with the intention of obtaining meaningful employment, few really understand how to go about seeking out their targeted companies and making an impression that will help them find solid leads, score one-on-one interviews and, ultimately, get their foot in the door.

Remember that unlike trade-show exhibitors who are trying to market their products and services to you, job fairs are filled with prospective employers who want to be sold on what you can do for their organization. Long before you walk into the event, you must realize that you are competing for the attention of recruiters who will see hundreds of people with the same goal -- to get hired.

What will you do to stand out? As these tips show, a little advance preparation goes a long way:

-- Dress for success. Between blue jeans and a tailored suit is business casual, a great look for job fairs, as it feels comfortable and yet says professional. If you're unsure about the suitability of your attire, it's always better to err on the conservative side.

-- Bring your resumé. Just as you'll be picking up company brochures to gather information, you'll want to have an updated resumé ready to leave behind to the people you talk to. It should be on white paper free of graphics, photos or fancy fonts and leave the interviewer room to make notes about you.

-- Be prepared to assert yourself. Don't wait for the recruiter to start the conversation. Introduce yourself and show sincere interest in the company by asking thoughtful questions that will trigger a discussion. Be concise, polite and direct.

-- Don't be caught off guard by common questions. Recruiters may ask you to tell them about your career objectives, interests and skills so they can measure your suitability for the opportunities they have. Be ready to talk about yourself and prepare answers to any anticipated questions you may receive.

-- Network with other job hopefuls. Start up a friendly conversation with other attendees while you are waiting in line. You never know what types of job-hunting ideas you can exchange or the kinds of leads you may get.

-- Remember your social manners. Recruiters will be turned off by an overzealous attendee who lingers too long, monopolizing their time. Don't overstay your welcome or invade personal space by following them around. Instead, meet the recruiter, make your pitch, get key information and then move on.

-- Taking notes shows attentiveness. Attendees should bring a pen and notepad for taking notes about the companies that most impress them. Listen attentively to what each recruiter has to say and record the most significant details of your discussion.

-- Never leave empty-handed. As your discussion wraps up, request a business card or write down the recruiter's name (get the correct spelling!), title and preferred means of contacting them. If you have made a successful connection with an employer, also ask about the next steps. Will they follow up or should you? Is there anything you can do or provide (such as work samples, transcripts) to help in the decision-making process?

Last, one of the most important ways to leave a good impression on a recruiter is simply to say thank you for his or her time. Appreciate that they have been on their feet all day and have met hundreds of people, so any personal attention they give you is especially valuable.

If time is short, send a brief but friendly followup email, reminding them of your meeting, what qualities make you an ideal candidate and thanking them for the opportunity to learn more about their organization. A kind and gracious first impression is often a lasting one.

-- With reporting by Barbara Chabai

John McFerran, Ph.D, F.CHRP, is managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. He can be contacted at


Positive impression

There are four key ingredients in the recipe for making a favourable impression on the people you meet (including recruiters):

1. Deliver a brief self-introduction using a natural but confident and assertive voice.

2. Maintain good eye contact.

3. Offer a firm handshake (not limp but not bone-crushing, either).

4. Give a gentle and sincere smile so that you appear approachable and personable.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 9, 2010 I2

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