It's not easy to make a lasting impression at a job fair. Yet there are ways you can stand out from the crowd and be remembered.
"It was toward the end of the day and a young woman came up to our booth," recalls Art Williams, an employment and outreach recruiter with University of California, Davis. "She asked about available positions, then asked if she could email me with additional questions - and she did. I asked her to let me know how the job search was going. A short time later she told me she got a job at our book store that required, among other things, working with me."
He acknowledges her follow-up was a nice touch and a good way to stay connected. "When someone shows that kind of initiative, I'm going to give that person some extra time."
Other recruiters have advice of their own for those about to attend a job fair.
"During job fairs we take in an excess of resumes, so I advise those who are really interested in getting a job with us to make a follow-up call one week after the initial contact," says Washington Mutual Bank's recruiter Colleen Connors based in Stockton. "Not only will this show initiative, it gives recruiters the opportunity to spend some time with the applicant."
She reports seeing a wide variety of people from entry-level to the highly skilled at recent job fairs. "It's a recruiter's dream to get so many applicants," she confesses. "The mix ranges from high school graduates to seniors. The only part of the population that is missing are those who are currently working."
She observes that most are dressed professionally, although some show up inappropriately casual in jeans, tennis shoes and T-shirts. The majority come fully prepared with resumes that include technical and functional skills, references and contacts.
"Jobseekers need to look professional and have their act together," advises Kathleen Esquer, community human resource specialist at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton. "They need to articulate and know what their skills are. Lastly, they must make a good first impression with a neat, accurate application."
Connors notes the recent changes in the job market are reflected in job fair attendance.
"We have seen a 30 to 40 percent increase in the number of applicants over last year," she states. "The biggest change is in the number of skilled people with long job tenure. I think this increase is good for the recruiter."
More Attend, Fewer Qualified
Most recruiters agree that attendance is up at job fairs. However, many of them report having a difficult time finding the right person for the particular openings they do have.
Williams has noticed that many seem overqualified for the positions they seek. Hiring managers are often hesitant to consider overly qualified applicants because such candidates are likely to leave when a more appropriate position becomes available.
"Let's say we have openings for cashiers and the assistant manager of a bank applies. It's hard to say that person isn't qualified to do the job," he explains. "But people who are appropriately qualified are those working in a cashiering position, not one who has supervised people who count money."
For those with too little experience, Williams advocates acquiring experience by volunteering in a given field. "People coming out of training school programs need to have work experience to be competitive," and the volunteer time counts.
Esquer also reports having a hard time matching applicants with openings.
"So many out of work in the technical field come by the booth looking for specific kinds of positions," she observes. "Unfortunately, we've had just a few openings in those fields, while we go begging with many of our specialized job openings."
Although entry-level employment, such as office assistants and maintenance personnel, is available, Esquer would like to see more people interested in the fields of student programs, financial aid, and adaptive technology (for disabled students).
Tony Young, senior account executive with Brick Housing Management in Pleasant Hill, also reports seeing a spectrum of under and overqualified people at recent job fairs. "So many people with technical backgrounds are showing up at our booth trying to get any kind of job just to make ends meet," he declares. "We do residential staffing, so most of the open positions are in leasing, maintenance or property management."
Take Your Time
At job fairs, Williams encourages jobseekers not to rush through the event, but to take the time to understand a prospective employer's needs. You also enhance your opportunity to make an impression if you thoroughly explore career prospects.
Williams says visitors to the university's booth discover a variety of jobs, including analysts, clerical positions, computer programming, healthcare, science and laboratory research, communications and maintenance. A large temporary employment service also provides a good way to get into the system.
"We are always looking for part-time instructors," Esquer notes. "You don't need teaching credentials at the community-college level. So, these positions are ideal for those in private industry who may have considered teaching as a longtime dream or goal."
Depending on the discipline, most prospective teachers need bachelor's or associate's arts degrees and related professional experience.
All of which makes another point - recruiters are a fount of knowledge about finding work. A simple conversation at an upcoming job fair might lead you on a career path never imagined.