Do You Make These Career Fair Mistakes?

The line was so long that it could have been mistaken for Black Friday at one of America’s favorite retailers. Instead of shoppers the hallway was filled with well-dressed jobseekers nervously shifting back and forth on their feet while silently practicing their elevator pitches. At exactly 8 a.m. the doors opened and several thousand people crossed the convention center floor, well on their way to new jobs. The career fair had begun.

Whether you’re a soon-to-be graduate or an experienced employee in need of a change, career fairs can be a valuable tool in your job search. Career fairs are an excellent way to efficiently connect with a large number of potential employers. They’re relatively low cost, and they get you in front of companies outside your geographic area. Career fairs also may help you discover new or smaller organizations. Best of all, most companies at the fair are actively looking to hire from the people that they meet.

Remember that career fair from the top of the article? When it was all said and done, several hundred people received offer letters. Not bad for a few hours in your fancy clothes.

If you have the chance to participate in a career fair, definitely do it. Dust off your resume, pop in a breath mint and get ready to put your best foot forward. As you prepare for your next fair, you can increase your chances of getting an interview by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Wearing uncomfortable shoes 

This sounds like such a simple thing, but trust me it has been the downfall of many talented job seekers. For some cruel reason, career fair planners rarely schedule these events in comfy rooms with soft, squishy carpets. Instead you will find yourself walking and standing for hours on unforgiving, hard floors with few available seats. When your feet hurt, it can change your posture, your nonverbal behaviors and your demeanor, all of which can make you seem less friendly or interested to an employer. You still have to be professional, but this is not the time to choose form over function when it comes to footwear.

2. Ignoring opportunities to be included in resume books or databases

Most career fairs have a resume book or online database where job seekers can submit resumes in advance. The process can be frustrating because it may require you to reformat your resume to fit certain standards or cut and paste key areas into a database template. This extra work is definitely worth it. If you are attending a career fair that allows onsite interviews, most candidates are chosen and contacted before the event even begins. Only a small percentage of interview slots are held for extraordinary candidates that stop by the booths. It is much easier to get noticed beforehand than to be one of several hundred eager faces standing in line. Even if there are no onsite interviews, your resume can generate interest for months after the career fair.   

3. Talking to tired representatives at the end of their shifts

A few hours of shaking hands and passing resumes can make anyone a bit cranky. Now imagine that you’re the recruiter with long lines of people clamoring to get your attention, each one of them earnestly trying to sell themselves. There comes a point of fatigue where even Superman would have a hard time breaking through. Make it easy on yourself and visit your top employers when the representatives are likely to be at their highest energy levels. Every company will have a schedule for its employees, but you’re most likely to find fresh representatives either at the very beginning of the day or after lunch. Avoid approaching booths right before lunch or at the very end of the fair.

4. Believing that you’re speaking to the hiring manager

You did it! You had a great conversation with the representative. You were witty, competent and confident, and the interviewer was impressed with you. As you turn to walk away (giving yourself a mental high-five), you miss the fact that the representative drops your resume into a pile with no additional notes or thoughts. In most situations, the recruiter is the gatekeeper, not the hiring manager. Your conversation is important so that your resume isn’t discarded. However, after the career fair your resume, along with many others, will be dumped unceremoniously on the hiring manager’s desk. No part of your amazing conversation will be conveyed. If there is something that you want the hiring manager to know, research the job online, apply for it, attach a cover letter referencing your amazing conversation with the representative—whom you should mention by name—and send it to the company along with your resume.

5. Grabbing table giveaways without speaking to representatives

One of the best parts about a career fair is the swag. Depending on the industries participating in the event, it is not unusual for jobseekers to walk away loaded with pens, stress balls, snacks, post-it-notes and all types of cool product samples. While I would never deny you the joys of treasure hunting, it is considered rude to grab armfuls of stuff without speaking to the representatives. Even if you aren’t interested in the company, it is critical to make a good impression because recruiters talk to each other more than you imagine. For many recruiters, career fairs are mini-reunions where they touch base with former colleagues, industry peers and college friends. A moment of greed at one booth could potentially tank your chances at another.

6. Making private comments about companies in public places

Privacy is dead. Well, at least at a career fair it is. If you have something disparaging, controversial or easily misinterpreted to say, you will want to wait until you get home. Every public space is potentially filled with company representatives poised to hear compromising information. Restrooms, elevators, coffee shops, restaurants and even the booths of competitors—you would be surprised at all of the places that recruiters show up. Always assume that someone is listening, and you’ll never go wrong.

Career fairs are an excellent choice for serious job seekers. With a little preparedness you can make significant inroads towards your career goals. So get your resume ready, pull out those comfortable shoes, and get that interview.