Back when I first began Landing On Your Feet, I wrote from personal experience, obviously. I don’t know how correct all of it were I am certainly not some sort of guru with the golden answers. There are some really legitimate folks out there like Richard Bolles, Harvey Mackay, Phil Baker, Jessica Holbrook, and others that clearly qualify – me, not so much.
At the end of the day, I know what worked for me and what I could not stand. My own real hope was that you might learn from some of my mistakes and not repeat them yourself. If you had a reaction like – “ha, what a dummy, I wouldn’t do that” – I pretty much succeeded.
And I have a lot of experience at job fairs. After 30 plus years of work, you know I’ve been to my share of job fairs. And like many of you I have been to niche fairs and the cattle calls. In my mind, job fairs are brutal.
So, a few months after I started Landing on Your Feet; I read an article about a job fair that was held downtown. It was harsh. I wrote an article about it and published it on a number of places. Not a lot of people read it, but of the people who did; I think it resonated. Despite the tiny number of readers, it generate a disproportionately large percentage of readers who gave it 5 stars or commented or republished it elsewhere. I think it struck a chord with some.
I thought about rewriting for 2011 and all the job fairs that are ginning up…
But I decided to go ahead and just republish as I wrote back last May.
So, here it is…
Can There Be a Worse Way to Apply For a Job Than to Attend a Cattle Call?
I read an article in today’s newspaper and came away, asking myself, “Is there worse way to look for a job?” Evidently, there was a job fair downtown yesterday. 135 companies and/or employers were present and about 5,000 job seekers attended. Right off the bat, on a straight line average, that is about 37 applicants to every company. Second off the bat, I hate those odds. It all becomes just a glorified cattle call.
It was a very long article, and yet, two quotes stuck out in my mind. First, a company representative said something to the effect, “this is a great time for us to be here, as we can pick and choose who want.” Second, a job applicant stated to the effect, “I just need a job, any job.”
I was disappointed by the arrogance of the representative and profoundly saddened by the desperation in the job applicant’s statement. The article quoted several more applicants and they all sounded the same theme of needing a job, any job. Of course, I am sure not all 5,000 folks there were desperate. Some, no doubt, were well qualified, well prepared individuals. But why quote them; they would not make for a very good narrative.
Back to my initial question, “Is there worse way to look for a job?” At the moment, I cannot think of another way worst than this. Sure, the success rate for mass mailing resumes to job postings online or in the paper is probably as low as finding a job at a fair. Yet, what people hope for the most in attending these things is also what can be the most crushing.
Most applicants think, “Well, if I can just see a live, breathing human being, I just know I can sell him on me.” With that, people attend these sessions with hopes high and expectations great. And for most, the let down is just as bad. Because it gets back to the mindset of the representatives and recruiters attending, and that attitude is one of arrogance and, “great, we get to pick and choose the steers we want.”
Life changing jobs and meaningful jobs come when an employer has a need and the applicant can fill that need. But to the degree possible it has to be on equal footing. The company brings its needs and problems to the table. The applicant brings solutions and answers to the table. Both sit at the table. At a job fair like the one held downtown yesterday, it was standing room only.
All that said, if you are going to attend a job fair, you must do, at the minimum, these things:
1. Get a list of companies that will be attending. With this list, narrow it down to the top ten you most would like to work for. If there are going to be 100 or 150 companies in attendance, you can make a second tier list of 10 companies.
For the first, ten companies; do some research via the internet and find some history on the companies. Look at recent articles that talk about their future plans, what their challenges are. Contact the firm organizing the job fair and secure a name of at least one recruiter attending for those companies.
(note – I forgot to mention in the original article to preregister if that is an option and to submit a resume to the hosting organization.)
2. Prepare a separate cover letter and resume targeted specifically to those ten companies. You want to take some generic resume to drop off willy-nilly, fine. But for the top ten companies, your cover letter and resumes must be targeted and addressed to them.
3. Wear your best suit to the job fair. I do not care how hot it is outside. You will be amazed by people who do not. Do not wear blue jeans or slacks or anything other than a conservative, two piece suit. This is serious and you must dress the part.
4. Get there early or get there late, but do not go in the middle. If you go in the middle, you will get lost. Be the first to see them and have your resume at the bottom. Or see them last and have your resume at the top of the pile, but do not leave your resume in the middle of the pile.
(note – I didn’t mention it in the original article, but if you go and make a professional impression, you may get a pre-interview and possibly invited to real interview later. That means, walking in prepared – see step 1 and 2. Also, go in with a positive mindset that you will get a pre-interview. But if you don’t – do not obsess, move on)
5. After you have seen your top ten, you can walk over to the second tier group, or just drop resumes off here and there. Actually, I recommend you go to the parking lot after you have seen your top ten and end your day. In the parking lot, immediately write out thank you notes to the people you saw and mail the letters that day; not tomorrow or the next week, but that day.
If you are going to attend a job fair, then be one of those who come prepared and has a purpose. Please do not be one of those, “I just need a job, any job, it has been so long…” applicants desperate for anything. Because if that is going to be your mindset, then I guarantee you will not be the steer that gets chosen.
Instead, walk into the job fair, with purpose and make that case that you can meet the needs of the company you wish to work. That is the mindset you need to separate yourself from the other 4,999 people who will be there.
Well, that’s the article. I still think that way.
What are your thoughts? Is there a better way to prepare for a job fair? What has been your experiences?
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