FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 31, 2014) -- Job fairs traditionally come in all sizes and flavors -- from the small half-day employer days to student career fairs at local high schools to full-blown, multi-day community job fairs that offer breakout sessions on a variety of employment-related topics for interested attendees.

While some hiring occurs at these events, job fairs usually give company representatives the opportunity to meet, greet and evaluate a pool of interested candidates for their advertised positions, to receive resumes from these folks and to talk about what their company offers in the line of a specific product line or service.

The reps make no promise that the resumes they receive from individuals will result in callbacks for interviews. I've heard some frustrated job fair attendees state that many of the reps were just manning booths, directing them to complete online applications at their corporate websites.

Have I depressed you yet? Well, don't be. Walking into a job fair may be a daunting task for you. You may be one of hundreds of candidates vying for a recruiter's attention, but you can make lemonade out of these lemons by following some tips for job fair success.

Research

Research the employers you're interested in who will be at the fair. Typically, the sponsoring organization, such as the local Chamber of Commerce, will have published a comprehensive listing of those employers who have committed to man booths at the event. As the date of the fair draws closer, the sponsoring organization will also have published a map showing the floor plan of the event's location, along with where the representatives' (or "vendors") booths will be situated.

Having this advance knowledge does a couple of key things for you.

You target those companies with which you have a keen interest in gaining employment, equipping yourself with basic knowledge about those companies so you can talk intelligently with company representatives. This communicates the fact that you're not merely interested in working for that company -- you show that you care about the firm, and are also able to ask some targeted questions of the company representatives, which speaks volumes about you as a candidate.

You send the message that you have a sincere interest in the company and are not just looking out for No. 1. Additionally, knowing who you will visit allows you to individually tailor your resumes and cover letters for those companies.

You spend time visiting the vendors who are hiring people with your specific skill sets first. Your energies are likely to be at optimum levels when you first arrive at the fair -- use that energy to your advantage early-on. You should also mark off the companies that you speak with, so you can remember to follow-up immediately after the event.

Multiple resumes

Always bring multiple copies of your resume. Even though you have targeted company booths you want to visit, extra copies of your resume are crucial for that unexpected representative at the fair -- another company that appeals to your skill set and long-range goals. You don't need to hand out your resume aimlessly, but bring a dozen extra copies above what you need for your target companies.

Practice

Practice your "elevator speech." In her book, "60 Seconds and You're Hired," noted author and career counselor Robin Ryan discusses the importance of having this pitch are all at the ready for any prospective employer who asks you the question, "So … tell me about yourself."

Having a carefully crafted and naturally delivered elevator speech -- lasting 30 to 60 seconds -- gives you the opportunity to distinguish yourself from the rest of the candidate "pack." You can tell the rep the value you would add to their firm as an employee, or better yet, what you could contribute as a team member.

It takes a while to perfect your pitch, so write it out, revise it and practice it several times so it sounds natural and not like you're delivering a sales presentation for a new car.

Dress for success

This strategy should go without saying, but I have to bring it up. I have personally observed job fair attendees arriving in tank tops -- showing off their colorful and message-infused tattoos -- cut-off shorts and sandals. I've seen other examples of revealing clothing on men and women alike.

These folks probably did not get the memo that job fairs give the company reps the opportunity to meet, greet and evaluate candidates for their positions. So, with that being said, I challenge you to ask yourself a couple of questions: Would I hire me if I came dressed for an interview in Saturday-casual attire? Am I trying to draw attention to my appearance, or am I trying to impress the representatives with my skills -- with what I can bring to their companies?

Wearing jeans, T-shirts, muscle shirts, or ill-fitting or bad-looking clothing, wearing pink sunglasses to match your Capris that have a large embroidered pink flower on the leg, wearing excessive perfume, or smelling like you've smoked a pack of cigarettes before your arrival -- habits that send potentially negative signals to prospective employers at the job fair.

Besides, many people are allergic to perfumes and no one likes the smell of stale cigarette smoke. As far as dress is concerned, it's always wise to show up at any employment event wearing a conservative business suit -- either blue or gray -- that communicates success and seriousness on your part. Treat the event as if you were going to an interview.

Other considerations

We live in a day and age where personal contact is almost frowned upon in social settings. We have virtual friends on Facebook. We would rather leave a voicemail message on someone's line than actually talk with that person. Texting, even fraught with grammar errors to the max, has replaced the face-to-face meeting in many instances, even when the person who receives the text message is sitting next to you.

Before you classify me as an anti-tech old fogey, hear me out on this. The rise of technology has also given rise to atrophied interpersonal skills -- skills that are vital to your successful job hunt strategies, especially where job fair events are concerned.

So, here are some other considerations you need to keep in mind -- and practice -- before the date of the job fair rolls around.

Be direct and enthusiastic when you meet company representatives. Introduce yourself, including your name and career interests. Remember to use good eye contact and a firm handshake with these reps. Much about who you are is communicated through subtle body language.

Avoid poor communication habits. Ditch the chewing gum. Control your rocking and fidgeting in the presence of the company rep, as a matter of fact, do not exhibit any nervous habit that may distract the rep from hearing you -- jangling car keys or loose change, using inane filler words like "Um," "and," and "uh," and remember to never use profanity when speaking to the reps.

Always ask pertinent questions of the reps, such as where they believe their firms are headed long-range. Never ask any questions concerning salaries and benefits -- you haven't earned the right to ask those questions until you are given an employment offer.

Ask the company representative for the next steps in the recruitment process. Try to obtain the representative's business card and hand write a personal thank you note as soon as you get home. Do not email, type or text these thank you notes. A handwritten note of thanks is rare in our modern tech-ridden culture, and I'm of the opinion that it's the rare things that set people apart from others insofar as the job hunt is concerned.

You've probably heard it said, "We never plan to fail, we just fail to plan." Allow me to give you a target to shoot for, to plan for in earnest. The Fort Rucker Job Fair is slated for Aug. 13 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ozark Civic Center.

Details about the event's vendors are available from the Ozark Chamber of Commerce. Call Tanya Roberts, executive director of the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, at 774-9321 for other event details. You can also contact Bryan Tharpe, director of the Fort Rucker Soldier for Life Center, 255-2558, or me at 255-2594.

Use the job fair preparation techniques I've outlined and, as always, happy job hunting!

Page last updated Thu July 31st, 2014 at 00:00