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Stand out at career fairs!

Increasingly, employers use career fairs to see many applicants during a short time frame. 

 Michael S. Washington

Increasingly, employers use career fairs to see many applicants during a short time frame.

Job seekers go to career fairs to improve their chances of landing a position because they can potentially apply for multiple positions, and meet interviewers who can either make a hiring decision or refer them for further consideration. Employers usually evaluate applicants based on their resume alone, or in combination with a telephone-screening interview.

Career fairs are different in one significant way – employers see applicants first.  This difference means making the right first impression is never more important. Therefore, your appearance, body language, energy level, enthusiasm and preparation become much more critical to making a great first and lasting impression.   

Dress appropriately for the type of position you are seeking. Conservative attire is usually best. For women, a business suit with a skirt or pants in a neutral color, with a simple blouse (no ruffles or plunging neck line) is a good start.  Keep in mind that neutral does not necessarily mean tan, navy, or grey. Other colors such as chocolate, eggplant or cream can work, especially if these colors are already in your wardrobe.  

If you do not have a suit, a nice blouse with sleeves and skirt should do the trick, particularly for entry-level positions. This is not the time for mini-skirts, five-inch heels, dangling earrings and a lot of jewelry.  

For administrative or managerial positions, add a jacket, even if it is not the exact color of your skirt, as long as it is a complementary color. Your hairstyle should be simple and professional. If you wear makeup, keep it to a minimum (no white or neon colored lips, heavy eyeliner, mascara or overly lush/long false eyelashes). Skip the lip liner, too. If you wear perfume, apply half as much as you normally would. You don’t want your fragrance to linger long after you’ve moved on to the next booth!

For men, depending upon the level of position you seek, wear a dress shirt with a tie (a bold color is great, but no overly busy pattern), dress slacks in a dark color, with dark socks and dress shoes. Lace ups are best, but slip-ons are acceptable if this is what you already have. Even if you are applying for a position in an industrial or outdoors setting, a nice pair of khakis with a dress or polo shirt will make you stand out over the competition. Just make sure your shirt has a collar.   

Remember, you’re trying to make a great first impression.  Men applying for managerial or executive level positions should definitely wear a suit or a blazer and dress slacks.  A fresh haircut or trim is definitely in order. And don’t wear too much jewelry – keep it simple, a watch and one ring (wedding band, class ring or signet – nothing ornate). Men should apply cologne sparingly also.

For all job seekers, prepare as early as possible before the fair. Ensure you have plenty of resumes (at least twice as many as the number of employers you plan to see), make sure your clothes are pressed and/or dry cleaned and that your shoes are in good repair and shined. Take a simple portfolio or briefcase to carry your resumes, pens and other items.  

Rest well two nights before the fair; determine which employers you plan to see and know what skills and experiences you bring to their openings. Conduct basic research on each company you’re interested in – their products, services, successes, current organizational challenges, etc. Knowing some information about the company will make employers take you more seriously.

Prepare and memorize a 30-second introduction describing your experience and how it will benefit the employer. Visit the career fair location the day before to determine where you will park, or if you need to be dropped off. The morning of the fair, eat a good breakfast, one that will give you energy for a sustained period.

Upon arrival, take a deep cleansing breath, smile, walk confidently, and think positively, even if this is your 50th career fair. If you’re not working, think of yourself as in transition rather than unemployed. Remember, you didn’t lose your knowledge, skills, abilities and work ethic when you lost your job. You’ve still got all that. Let it show in your attitude and you’ll interact with employers with greater poise and confidence.  Every employer wants to hire someone with a winning attitude.

(Michael S. Washington, PHR, is a certified professional in human resources and founder and principal career coach for Onpoint Career Coaching, which offers individualized career coaching.  Visit his blog at onpointcareercoaching.wordpress.com.)


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