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Job Fair: 98% of candidates FAIL. How to score an interview

Job Fair

Great professional looks and smiles cluttered with too much baggage

Job Fair: getting the interview

If I talk to 100 or 500 candidates at a Job Fair, 98% of the folks that stop by the booth fail and won’t get a call. The good news is that there are always a few students that come to a fair prepped, do everything right, and walk away with an interview. The prior post explained how I count the ways that candidates come unprepared and what it looks like to me, the guy in the booth. Yes, HRNasty, “the trained professional”.

Below are a few things the successful candidate will do at a job fair. You can easily walk up to the booth and make a great impression within the first 5 seconds with just some simple moves. Your resume will go to the “call tomorrow” box.

Before the job fair

  • Get your LinkedIn account in orderThis is the first place I will check when I get back to the desk after any job fair. I want to connect your LinkedIn picture with the face I saw and the resume I was handed. I just saw 500 candidates; so don’t expect me to remember everyone. While you are at it, clean up your Facebook account.
  • Any decent job fair will have a website and most college fairs will make the announcement via the career center. Find out what companies are going to be in attendance and what positions interest you. There may be 100 plus companies in attendance, but only a few companies will be of interest to you. Even if these companies of interest don’t have relevant positions, make a point of stopping by the booth. Your position may be listed in 3 weeks.
  • Send an email introduction to the HR department before the job fair so they are expecting you. Via LinkedIn, you can connect with the HR department/recruiters and with some persistence make an online introduction. Anyone that takes the initiative and makes an intro before a fair will pique my interest. I will remember them mainly because it happens so infrequently and shows initiative.
  • Companies often sponsor seminars before the job fair starts. If your company is buying, attend the seminar and introduce yourself afterward. Even if they don’t have the positions you are interested, or it is a company you are not necessarily interested in, attend and introduce yourself.  It’s called networking. Recruiters know recruiters and help each other find candidates.

At the job fair

Move with confidence and smile all the time. Even when just walking around the job fair, SMILE. You are being watched. Especially at a smaller, less crowded event.  Most of the time all the people at these fairs look like they are in a casino where no one is smiling and it is actually quite depressing. The folks that smile stick out. They are who I want to work with. Recruiters are proactive and approach these candidates at events. Yes, recruiters have game too.

  • Give me the same feeling I get when I see someone interesting across a room in a party. Doesn’t matter male or female, there can still be chemistry. Show me that you are excited to see me here and more excited to meet with me. SMILE.
  • If you see a hot chick or dude, you get excited, right? You can be excited about the company that is going to be paying your rent. SMILE!  This is what I look for when talking to candidates!

Dump the excess baggage

  • Figuratively and literally. You are on a 3-minute blind date and I don’t want to see your baggage. Too many candidates present themselves with bulging backpack, water bottle, jacket, binder, rolled up resumes and a bag full of free shit from other companies. Your free swag tells me you weren’t just interested in me. You are sleeping with the other woman and your great outfit means nothing if you are carrying too much. (see pix) It makes the handshake and exchange of biz card and resume very awkward. Leave any extras in the car and don’t collect any free shit till you are done networking. This isn’t a panty raid where we come back with trophies.

The right clothes matter

In the same way you can be under-dressed or over-dressed for the first date there is the dress code for interviews.

  • If you want to make a good impression, find out what the dress code is for the company you are interested in, and dress appropriately.
  • Approach the booth looking and acting professionally.  Smile and look the recruiter in the eye with your head up. This applies whether the job is for $12.00 an hour or $50.00 an hour.   Look appropriately professional for the position.

Make sure your name tag is in a place I can see it without it being awkward or putting me at risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Its a #MeToo Era and  I am going to meet 300 people today. Do you really think I am going to keep these names straight? I appreciate an extra popped-blouse-button as much as the next guy but make it easy for me to address you by your proper name without embarrassing myself.

Have a great opening line and rehearse it

You know about the company, have done some research, and have some specific questions about the position.

  • Part of the opening line is making ME feel special. You came here to see ME. You are excited for ME. Amongst all the other hot companies on the dance floor, you picked ME!
  • If I am at a club and I see some doofus going down the line asking EVERY girl in the club to dance then I am embarrassed for the male gender.  Don’t be that doofus.
  • Your opening line ends with an open-ended question. This starts a conversation: If you are a great candidate and you specify two companies you just told me two things. I have some SPECIFIC competition. You aren’t sleeping around with everyone in the venue. You have two interested parties and I need to hustle, because if I am interested, so is my competition. You are showing me that you did your homework by researching a SPECIFIC position or 2.  I am now in a very different mindset. I know I have to hustle. That is “nasty”.
    • My name is Johnny Candidate. I only came to this fair for 2 positions and one is position X at your company. The job description mentioned you are looking for a Comp Sci major. I have a Comp Sci minor and a Mechanical Engineering degree. Can you tell me what you think about these degrees for this position?
    • My name is Suzy Candidate. Thanks for coming out to our school, we really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to visit us. I only came to this fair to meet with 2 companies and two specific jobs. One of them is job X with your company. I have a cover letter and a resume I would like to leave with you, but I just have one question. I studied the job description for job X, can you clarify what is meant by . . . .   

The Don’ts

  • I assume that 98% of the folks are going to waste my time.  Just don’t waste too much of it. Keep it short.  There are 4 other folks waiting to talk with ME. Play nice, don’t be a ball hog. If you can’t do it in 2 min, you won’t do it in 5 or 10.
  • I may be different in this regard, but I don’t want to hear about what is on your resume. I can read that in the privacy of my office with my morning coffee. I want to hear from you, and why you are interested in ME. You have 2 minutes. Start a conversation and ask me some questions about a specific job that shows you did your research.
  • Avoid showing up to the career fair during the last half hour. Recruiters are taking down their booths and thinking about getting the heck out of Dodge. Long drives home or maybe even flights are on my agenda. They don’t want to talk with someone who put things off until the last-minute.

Bonus Points

  • Let’s say after your opening line, it is determined there isn’t a fit right now. We don’t have an opening. You can still make a great impression by taking the high road with “I know some folks with this background . . .  I will send them over”, or “I will make an online introduction”. . . .   Yeah, I want to stay in contact with this candidate. The hot girl just looked me in the eye, smiled and said, “I am not interested in you, but my twin sisters would love to meet you”. BooYahhh!
  • That evening I get a follow-up email saying how much they appreciated meeting ME and reinforce why they are either great for the position or make an online intro to someone who will be a better fit.  Think about your first great date and getting the text later in the evening. The simple one that said “had a great time tonight”. Ahhh, Warm and fuzzy.

This candidate doesn’t have to ask me for an interview. After talking to 200 other candidates who don’t have a clue this candidate has Beiber moves and Sade’s style all rolled up into one.  You wonder why I am worried about my email and wondering about the free lunch? I need to talk to 100’s of candidates to finally get a gamer. My voice is literally horse the next day.

Treat the job fair like an interview. You have a direct line to a recruiter and plenty of company employees.  You have a ROOM full of recruiters. This is the best networking opportunity you are going to get. Every recruiter in the room wants to meet a winner and they want to hire employees. Help them help you. If you ever complained about not hearing back from a recruiter, today is your day.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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