Job fairs can feel like a cattle call sometimes. You go from one booth to another, waiting for your turn to speak with a recruiter for a few minutes at most.
Knowing how to navigate a job fair is key to getting the most out of such events. Recruiters say preparation and having the right attitude can help snag an interview and even land a job, though it's rare to get an offer on the spot.
The spring is generally a peak time for job fairs, especially for college students.
Check out the Maryland Workforce Exchange, an online network where you could access information about jobs, work force training and events, such as career fairs. The site, operated by the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, is https:--mwe.dllr.state.md.us.
"What recruiters tend to do is size someone up" and figure out if candidates are "driven, motivated and enthusiastic and understand the company. Those things tend to stand out," says Todd Raphael, editor in chief of ERE Media, which provides recruiters and human resources professionals industry news and networking programs. "Then they forward the resume to the hiring manager, and they make it through the gate."
In other words, first impressions count if you want to pass the initial hurdle.
Tina Marie Price, assistant vice president and employment manager at Baltimore-based First Mariner Bank, attends up to 12 job fairs a year that range from college level to professionals.
She says one of the first things she notices is the candidate's attire and presentation.
"It's important for an applicant to be dressed professionally, have a copy of an updated resume and to be able to talk about themselves," Price says. "A lot of people who walk up to me say, 'I don't want to brag about myself,' [but] now is the time to do it."
Terri Morris, a Linthicum-based recruiting manager at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said she has had good success finding and hiring candidates at job fairs.
"Go and attend, and you never know what you could find," says Morris, who attends on average five to six a month. "Keep your options open, and you'd be surprised what a great resource and networking opportunity these things can be."
Here are other tips for job-fair success:
Many job fairs list employers who will be attending. Focus on a handful of companies you're interested in and learn all you can about each place. Raphael, of ERE Media, says it's wise to have customized cover letters and resumes for each company.
At the same time, Morris said candidates should have a "window-shopping" mentality by checking out every employer because you never know what opportunities they may have.
Set realistic expectations. Recruiters hire qualified candidates they've met at job fairs. But hiring can fluctuate, so don't fret if you leave without strong leads.
The important thing is that you network with recruiters and build a relationship for future opportunities, Price says.
"If you make a good impression, it's networking," she says.
Don't forget to follow up. That initiative will show recruiters that you're really interested in working for the company.
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On the Job is published Monday at www.baltimoresun.com.