Make a Career Fair Work for You

Opinion often differs as to the benefits of attending a career fair. For every one person who can tell a story of landing their dream job thanks to a career fair, there seems to be dozens more stories of how career fairs don't yield the desired results.

While there's no guarantee a career fair will end up with an employer-employee match made in heaven, there are steps job seekers can take to make the most of a career fair.

* Get a head start. Thanks to the Internet, it's now easier for job seekers to make themselves known at career fairs. Pre-registering for a career fair, as opposed to simply showing up on the day of, often requires registrants to upload a resume. This gives prospective employers an opportunity to pre-screen potential applicants and make a note of who they want to contact at a career fair.

* Be prepared. A career fair should not be considered a simple meet-and-greet. Job seekers should prepare for a career fair as if it were a job interview. Everyone knows the value of making a strong first impression, and job seekers can do just that by preparing to answer any questions prospective employers might ask. While a career fair might seem less formal than a typical job interview, it should not be treated as such.

* Bring more than yourself. Today's job market is incredibly competitive, and standing out at a crowded career fair won't be easy. That said, job seekers should bring a portfolio of their best work. This doesn't have to be everything, but individuals should choose a handful of work samples that illustrate their talents and experience.

* Dress the part. Attire is also important when attending a career fair. Just because a career fair is on a Wednesday afternoon does not mean job seekers should dress like it's a typical lazy Wednesday afternoon around the house. Conservative business attire should be worn, and remember it's always preferable to overdress than underdress.

* Follow-up. Companies with a table or booth at a career fair are going to receive an overwhelming amount of resumes, particularly with such high unemployment rates. That said, it's a good idea for job seekers to do some follow-up with recruiters. Take their business cards and follow-up with them after the event. Call them that night and leave a voicemail thanking them for their time and insight, or e-mail them a thoughtful letter expressing similar sentiments of gratitude. Also, reiterate interest in the company and any available positions discussed during the career fair. Before hanging up the phone or sending the e-mail, be sure to promise a follow-up phone call during business hours, and make sure that phone call is made.