By Tali Arbel -- AP Business Writer
Career fairs — geared to students, specialized industries and the general public — are drawing record crowds as job losses keep coming.
Even so, your odds of landing a job through a general fair aren't high, said CareerCast.com publisher Tony Lee. If you're mid-career, a specialized career fair will be a better bet. In the meantime, what's the best strategy for mining a general-interest job fair? Prepare beforehand and hone in on the position you want, experts say.
— Perfect your "elevator pitch." This is a 45-second statement about how well you would mesh with the organization and what skills you'd bring to a position that needs to be filled. "The key is to be tailored to their specific opening," said Lee, who has been to hundreds of fairs over the past two decades. "If your elevator pitch is just about you, it is not as effective as how you can benefit them."
To make that sell, do research on the company so that you know what specific opening it is looking to fill. Even with a large fair with 60 companies, it would take you about a day to figure out which ones have openings that best suit you by checking out their Web sites, Lee said. Just by doing that and narrowing down the recruiters you approach, you'll probably be more prepared than most of the other job seekers at the fair, he said.
And make your pitch fast. "You've got one minute," said Eric Winegardner, a vice president at Monster, which runs mass job fairs across the country. "After the first 15 seconds, the recruiter starts checking out."
Winegardner also recommends that you first practice your approach with recruiters from companies that you are not as interested in, just to build confidence in selling yourself hard and fast.
— Don't waste your time. Don't bother handing resumes to companies that don't need you, just so they have your resume "on file," Lee said. "The whole goal of a job fair is to get a second interview." Simply handing over a resume so that they have it for the future — along with dozens, if not hundreds, of others doing the same thing — is pointless, he said.
— Follow up. Always get a business card from the recruiter. Lee also recommends taking notes right after summarizing the key points of your interaction. Don't call, he said — that's a bit too aggressive. Instead, start with e-mail and say you'd like to schedule an interview. Don't be alarmed if recruiters take a week to respond.
Winegardner said a handwritten thank-you note with a reference back to your conversation at the fair is a nice touch that will make you stand out. Also send a fresh version of your resume on nice paper, with a cover letter.
While a recruiter may be meeting with and having short conversations with hundreds of job seekers, he "won't get hundreds of letters," Winegardner said. "Be top of mind."
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