Job fairs are a great addition to your job search toolkit. But the thought of all those employers in one big room and lots of other job seekers circulating around the room might be intimidating to some.
Never fear – I’m going to walk you through a foolproof guide to knock it out of the job fair ballpark. When you follow these steps, you’ll be prepared, confident and ready for success. Let’s get started!
First, find the right job fair. Many are free for job seekers or charge a small fee, so look carefully at any job fair that comes with a hefty admission price. Do your research – call the organizer and ask some questions before paying to attend a job fair as a job seeker. The right job fair will have employers there that you are interested in, or at least that you are open to learning more about.
Register in advance. This signifies a commitment on your part and will help ensure that you don’t back out!
Research the list of companies that are attending. Look them up and note the following things about each one:
- What the company does
- How big it is
- What types of jobs they list on their website that they’re hiring for now
- Which of their available jobs you are interested in and are a good fit for
- How the company describes their culture
- One interesting fact about the company that you can bring up in conversation with a recruiter
Apply to positions with those companies prior to the job fair.
Go to LinkedIn to search for a recruiter or Human Resources contact at the company. This is gold! Now send an InMail message or email to this recruiter to let her know you are a perfect fit for this job and will be at the job fair. Include your resume. Send it just a few days in advance of the job fair. Be brief – you want your note to be read, so after you write it, cut it in half and then send it!
Prioritize the employers attending the job fair in order of how interested you are in each one.
Practice your personal pitch. You should have a 20-second version of your pitch for a job fair that includes the following:
- A firm and friendly handshake while you look the recruiter in the eye, smile and introduce yourself
- A mention of your key skills and how they tie to the work this company does
- The specific job opening you saw on their website that you are interested in. We want it to be obvious that you did your homework before arriving
Your pitch should sound polished, but not like a recitation. Keep it conversational. Record yourself delivering it (I like the Voice Recorder & Audio Editor app for iPhone) so you can get good at it.
On game day, wear a suit. You are a job seeker, and job seekers need to look professional. Many other people there won’t be in suits and you will stand out for your professionalism. If your closet no longer holds suits, pull together the most professional outfit you can and go for it.
Bring copies of your resume. Print them out on regular white paper, no need to buy the fancy paper we used to print our resumes on in the old days! Put these in a padfolio or a nice folder along with some blank paper so you can take notes. Also bring business cards with your contact info if you have them. You can get these made at Staples or any other office supply store on really short notice and for very little money.
Arrive early: If you arrive close to the beginning of the job fair, you’ll wait in fewer lines and catch recruiters while they’re fresh. If the job fair starts at 8:30am, plan to arrive by 8:45am – let recruiters have their coffee and get set up before you arrive.
Look at the floor plan for the job fair and note where each company has their booth. Start with a company that is not one of your top priorities. You want to get practice giving your pitch and really hit your stride by the time you approach your most desired company. I also want you to avoid looking like a lost soul wandering around the room.
Enter the room like you own it! You are the reason job fairs exist, after all. Job fairs hope to attract qualified, professional candidates and that’s exactly what you are! So walk in with purpose and get started with the companies you want to meet. Here’s a sample pitch:
“Hi, my name is Elizabeth Smith. It’s nice to meet you. I’m a marketing manager with an expertise in digital marketing and I’m really interested in IBM because you set the standard in the tech field. I applied for a Digital Marketing Manager position online and would like to talk to you about it.” Then ask a smart question about it.
Before you leave the table, offer your resume and business card and ask for the recruiter’s card. Also, ask about the best way to follow up and if it’s OK for you to check in with them in a few days. (You’ll need to have the recruiters contact info to follow up.)
Need a break? Step into the lobby, find a comfy chair and write down some notes while you take a breather. Notes like this are helpful:
Met Cindy Smith at IBM. Hiring in digital marketing, but not in partner marketing. Call on Monday to follow up. Also have openings in Watson Health area.
Don’t rely on your memory when you get home, because if you visit multiple booths they’ll all start to blend together in your mind.
Within 24 hours, reach out to the people you met. Connect with them on LinkedIn with a personalized message or send an email – or both. Let them know that you enjoyed meeting them, remind them of your conversation or the position you applied for and express interest in meeting again soon. Don’t skip this step. Follow up is very important and very few job seekers do it. It will set you apart.
Good luck at the job fair!
If you’re feeling stuck in your job search or just need some fresh new ideas about how to move the ball forward, here is my list of Top 10 Resources for Job Seekers. Many of these are free and easy to take advantage of. So whether you’re ready to return and find yourself at an impasse, or if you just want to think ahead, pick one of these to investigate this week.
My Top 10 Resources for Women Returning to Work
- Community College – many of their job search classes are free to job-seekers. This is also a great place to take low-cost classes that help you demonstrate that you’re a continuous learner and fill your skill gaps.
- Job search groups – many of these are run out of churches, and you don’t always have to be a member of the church to join the group. They provide support, community and speakers on topics of interest to job seekers. In my area, for instance, First Baptist in Cary runs a big job-seeking group.
- Groups that provide technology skills training, some are focused specifically on women:
- Women Who Code is a national group that holds meetings, runs courses and provides lots of online resources
- Mozilla offers online resources and courses for learning and refreshing tech skills
- Girl Develop It – now in 58 cities, they offer meet-ups for women learning to code
Meet-Ups seem to have a group for every specific coding language that exists! Google “code meet-ups (your city name)” to find out what exists in your area
- Local networking groups that hold periodic networking lunches and events for women. This is a great way to meet people and make new connections. Again, either google or search MeetUp.com to find groups. Remember, you must get out of the house and meet people to advance your job search!
- Flexjobs is an online job board that posts flexible and part-time jobs
- If you need professional help putting your resume together, there are plenty of coaches out there who will help you with this and you can find them on LinkedIn. We use Mir Garvy of RTP Resumes or Catherine Tuttle of Forward Thinking Resumes. Both of these resume experts will work with you remotely if you’re not local and are interested in their services.
- Here’s a terrific book that I highly recommend: Back on the Career Track by Vivian Steir Rabin and Carol Fishman Cohen. It’s written just for stay-at-home-moms returning to the workforce and full of practical advice. Reinventing You by Dorie Clark is another great read that will inspire you on your job search. Dorie’s advice: “Find the common thread between your past and where you want to go in the future.”
- Learn a new skill or refresh a current one by taking online courses on LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, or Udemy.com. There are smart and economical ways to brush up on your Excel skills and many others, and some of these courses are free.
- Additional online resources that focus on women:
- Power To Fly – job board that staffs women on virtual jobs
- Werk – Werk’s mission is to promote flexibility in the workplace
- Apres – online resource and job board for women returning to work
Let me know what other resources you have found to be helpful.
I’d like to address LinkedIn and how important it is in your job search from a slightly different angle and share some smart strategies for using LinkedIn as a job searcher that you can do today.
Remember, LinkedIn is your ticket to finding out who works where and who’s hiring. For a job seeker, this is important information.
Here are 3 things to try on LinkedIn today:
TIP #1: Look up your dream company using the feature that allows you to see “people who work at…”. Are you connected to anyone who works there? If yes, send them a message asking for a phone call. It can read something like this:
I hope you’re doing well. I’m considering my next career move and have always been really interested in XYZ Company because my background in project management seems like a great fit for the roles XYZ is currently hiring for. Would you have 15 minutes during the next week or two for a phone call so I could ask you a few questions about the company and hear about your experience there?
Thanks in advance!
If you aren’t connected to anyone there, look at the second-degree connections and pick out someone you know who has a connection at the company. This can be either someone in the department you’re interested in (preferably) or a recruiter. Send a message to your connection asking for an introduction.
Here’s a template you can use:
I see you’re connected to Jane Smith on LinkedIn and Jane works at XYZ where I’m really interested in getting a job. Would you be able to introduce Jane and me via email or LinkedIn? My email address is xxx. Thanks for your help!
Did you try it? It’s pretty easy, right? Now try it a few more times – your goal is to expand your network and this will take work every day. Once you get an introduction or schedule a phone call, be ready with great questions, your elevator pitch, and an offer of “what can I do for you?”
Tip #2: For our next trick, message someone you haven’t spoken to in a long time to keep the connection fresh. Just a very brief “hello” is all we’re after here. Here’s an example:
It’s been a while, but I’ve enjoyed following your success on LinkedIn and hope things are going well for you at XYZ Company. I’m working on my return to work after taking a career break and I’m really excited about the possibilities!
Why do this? Because you never know who Bill knows or what kind of help he may be able to provide. If nothing else, you’ve done what people always say they plan to do (keep in touch with their network) but never seem to get around to actually doing – so good for you! Your contacts will recognize that this is smart networking and give you credit for it. Plus, if you need to reach out to Bill with a specific request in the near future, it won’t be so awkward because you’ve checked in with him recently.
Tip #3: Ask for recommendations! Having multiple recommendations is a great way to fill out your profile and asking for them is easy. Use the “Ask for recommendations” feature on LinkedIn. Or you can send your request via email. Allow me to get you started:
Hi Sally, I’m planning my next career move and filling out my LinkedIn profile as part of the process. Would you write a brief recommendation for me? I was hoping you could reference our work together as project managers/my technical skills/the great teamwork we had while working together at X Company. I’d be happy to do the same for you so please let me know if that would be helpful. Thank you!
A few things to keep in mind about your request:
- Be specific about what you’d like people to comment on. This helps them write something quickly and gets you just what you want on your LinkedIn profile.
- Offer to reciprocate.
- Keep your request brief!
- Don’t shy away from asking people for recommendations even if it’s been many years since you worked together. They’ll remember you and the work you did.
Try these out today. Why today? Because doing this now while it’s fresh in your mind is your best bet for getting it done. Also, because these are things you need to do on a regular basis and you’ll get more comfortable as you do them more often. Start today and then do them again tomorrow.
Remember, your job as a job seeker is to expand your network. If you’re returning to work after a career break you’re going to have to tap into your network to find your next opportunity and LinkedIn is a great way to do this.
When not offering tips on making LinkedIn the focus of your job search…well, actually, because LinkedIn IS that important, Katie can always be found offering LinkedIn assistance to her UNC MBA Candidates and women like her who are returning to the workforce. For more information and tips, check out www.backtobusinessconference.com.
Focusing on our job search means updating our resumes….which means a solid review of our skills – determining which relevant skills we already possess and which require an update. Here are the critical skills we’ve identified and then what some experts have to say about them –
Professional Skills: Communication, Leadership, Teamwork
These are interpersonal skills that are so vital, yet not always common, in a work environment. Clear and concise verbal and written communications, the ability and confidence to have others follow your lead and the ability to work well with others as a leader or member of a team are crucial for success.
Business Basic Skills: E-mail, Spreadsheets, Word processing, Budgets, Scheduling
Being proficient on e-mail and in scheduling is probably not that tough for women re-entering the workforce as we’ve just spent the last many years coordinating our families’ activities! But a Microsoft refresher course is definitely in order with recent technological upgrades and advancements.
Technical Skills: Software-specific, Coding
Recruiters and employers are often looking for technical skills. Search job postings in your area of interest and check on LinkedIn to see what skills people working in your intended field possess. Remember that even if you don’t plan to go into a technical field, it can be important for you to understand the language of technology and have a basic understanding of modern technical terms.
Use our Job Re-Entry Checklist to assess your skills and identify any gaps that might need a refresher or training.
What the Experts Say
These skills are so important, that reacHIRE’s comprehensive PowerUpTM training program includes 70+ hours of training in these areas. reacHIRE has a program in Boston and RTP that helps women to successfully re-enter the workforce. Sonja Neiger, reacHire’s Regional Director, Talent & Training tells us that they include finance fundamentals, working with big data and understanding the software development process in their training.
“Most businesses are very interconnected, so strong communication skills are critical” says Leigh-Wallace Hines of The Select Group. “I typically also look for responsibilities listed on a resume where the candidate has given presentations using various methods (in person and teleconference) to groups of people and written documentation or marketing materials. When speaking to a candidate over the phone or in person, I want to make sure that they speak clearly and that their personality will mesh well with the environment that they will work in for our customer.”
Regarding technical skills, Hines says that “if someone is looking to ‘start from scratch’ and enter the technical world as a Help Desk Analyst or a Network Technician, then having some sort of certification (unless they have a Bachelor’s Degree in the field) will demonstrate that they have the baseline knowledge to be successful in the role. For a data analytics role, having demonstrable experience with software relevant to their field (SAP, SPSS, SQL, etc.) is important. If someone has been out of work for some time, candidates should be able to show some sort of effort in keeping their skills up-to-date by attending seminars, conferences, or classes at a local technical school.”
If you’ve been a busy, involved parent, chances are good that you’ve probably cultivated many of the skills that employers find desirable in candidates while you were on your career break. Many women stay active by managing committees through their churches or children’s schools, leading PTAs, organizing events or fundraising. Don’t overlook the value of these activities. Take a good look at what you’ve been involved in and make a list of the tools and skills you used in those situations, even if it wasn’t paid work.
Once you identify those skill areas in which you are relatively weak, make a plan to improve them. Your plan could include attending Back to Business events where you can brush up on some of those critical job skills in a hands-on environment. And if you’ve been putting off volunteering, now is a good time to pick a few activities that will help you strengthen a skill area you’ve identified as important to your next career move.
Communicating that you possess these skills is the next step. We’ve addressed that in subsequent Back to Business articles on effective networking. So keep working on your checklist and stay tuned!
Whether you’re ready to go back to work after taking time off or just thinking about it, my Returning to Work After a Career Break Webinar will be helpful. It’s full of the professional advice that I use in my position as Senior Associate Director, Career & Leadership at the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School but geared toward women returning to work. Sign-up to receive the Webinar Replay that you can watch at your convenience — it’s about 30 minutes — and the accompanying Worksheet, and return to work the right way.
Returning to Work Webinar Replay
I'll send an email directly to you with a link to this webinar replay that you can watch at your convenience as well as the worksheet.
Once upon a time, it was our kids. Babies, just home from the hospital. When they were awake during the night they demanded your attention and food. When they slept, you watched them sleep to make sure they were still breathing. Then they grew up and became teenagers who could stay out later than you could stay awake. But even when you slept then, you had one eye open like only a mom can.
Now you’re thinking about going back to work and what keeps you up at night are all the what if’s and the how on earths. What if I go back to work and my family needs me at home? What if my child needs a ride and I’m not available? How will my kids play sports/do after-school activities if I can’t pick them up every day? How will dinner get made every night if I’m not there to do it?
Here’s the answer to all those questions: Forget about them for now.
Returning to work after a career break is a multi-step process. Solving those problems before you have a job isn’t even possible because you’re working out of order.
For example, why worry about who’s going to pick up the kids until you know you have a job that requires you to be at work during pick-up time? You may wind up in a job with the flexibility to leave early on days you need to pick people up. Or the kids may find their own rides, or have their licenses by then, or (my favorite) a neighbor will ask you to carpool. Here’s my point: don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back from pursuing a job you’re interested in. Once you get the job, you can figure all the rest out. I know you can – you’re so smart!
Take it one step at a time. The step that comes first is focusing on you. What kind of job do you want? What are the companies where you can do that kind of work? What skill gaps do you need to fill to be able to get that job?
When I was looking for a job, our oldest son was playing on a lacrosse team that practiced 30 minutes from home every afternoon. I was so worried about how he’d continue to play on the team once I went back to work and couldn’t drive him there every day. Guess what? I didn’t go back to work until well after the season ended. This wasn’t a problem I needed to solve, but occasionally I used it as an excuse to put less than 100% into my job search. In hindsight, that was silly.
Allow me to sum it all up for you: Tackle the problem at hand first, then worry about the other stuff. Get the job and then find help where you need it.
You can do this.