By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun
It's a trying but necessary part of the diligent job hunter's tool kit: attending job fairs. I say trying, because most of us who've been to these events remember not too fondly the mass of anxious people, long lineups to talk to recruiters, and our achy feet at the end of the day.
But job fairs are necessary because, in a highly competitive employment market saturated with job seekers, you need as much ammunition as possible.
To transform your experience from exhausting to effective, those in the HR fold advise doing the necessary legwork before even setting foot in a job fair.
"It's essential to know exactly who you want to target when you go," says Rob Hosking, manager of Toronto operations for Accountemps, a leading financial staffing service. "In so many cases there are hundreds of companies, and it's easy to take 100 resumes and hand one out to everyone, but that doesn't make an impact."
To make the best impression, Hosking says, find out ahead of time who will be exhibiting at the fair, and home in on the top 20 companies at which you're most interested in working.
You'll then need to research these companies by perusing their websites as well as any literature, such as annual reports and mission statements, that you can obtain before the fair.
Personalize your approach
| Rob Hosking
Use this information to craft personalized cover letters and resumes to hand out to these companies. Some may refer specifically to job postings you discovered on their site, which will also give you an edge. Make sure to specify why you are interested in their company or a specific job, and why you would be well-suited to work there.
If possible, find out ahead of time who manages your desired department or division, and address the letter to them personally.
"Understand what you want, and present that to each company and why you want to work there, versus coming across like you'll take any job," Hosking says.
Dress for success
Critical to the pre-job fair legwork is deciding on the image you want to portray.
Dress in a way that's professional, conservative and shows you take care of your appearance.
"A lot of times, whether we like it or not, we're judged by our appearance. People will remember you as the person wearing something flashy or inappropriate," says Jacqui Mills, a career assessment consultant at the Office Workers Career Centre, a Toronto-based career planning service. "Dress the same way you would if you were going for a job interview."
That also means remembering the small details, such as ensuring your hands are clean, your hair is neat and you're not chewing gum.
And since you can expect to be working a lot of floor space for a good chunk of time, wear comfortable, but appropriate, shoes, and carry a bottle of water to stay hydrated.
Prepare several copies of your resume -- ideally targeted ones with cover letters -- to bring with you. Rather than packing an unwieldy stack of papers, Mills advises putting them in separate envelopes to make them easier to distribute.
Make sure to also bring plenty of business cards. If you are currently unemployed, both Hosking and Mills advise creating your own business card highlighting your skills and expertise.
Finally, be sure to bring a pen and notepad to document leads, contact names, and comments from HR and training specialists who may be speaking at the fair.
It's critical, then, to develop a one-minute ad or presentation that lets you concisely and adequately tell others about you, your major professional achievements and your career ambitions.
Create your ad ahead of time, and then practise in front of the mirror and even friends and family until you sound natural.
"Some fairs have 30 people lined up at each booth, and you get very little time to sell yourself," Hosking says.
"You have to be able to quickly cite your accomplishments, versus your job function. It's not, 'I was an accounts payable clerk for five years,' it's 'Here's what I accomplished at ABC Company as an accounts clerk."
Successfully navigating your way through the dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of exhibits takes a certain amount of resolve and self-possession. Don't be dissuaded by all the other visitors, but view it as an opportunity to network -- you may leave with some useful leads.
"Make sure you're in a good frame of mind physically and mentally," Mills says. "Don't think of all the competition. Tell yourself that you are the most qualified person, and if a company has an opening, you will get that job."
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