The "Fifty Plus Worker" and Job/Career Fairs
Job fairs are a business!  Your chances of finding a good job are very low, especially in these current economic times.  For the Fifty Plus generation the vast majority of what can be achieved by attending job fairs is the opportunity to develop new valid networking contacts
Attending a job fair is the quickest way to meet multiple networking contacts and find similar associates from the business world who can provide new avenues for contacts.  In addition, it is your opportunity to share your information with others in a non invasive meeting.

So why attend a job fair if there are no jobs that meet your criteria and you may find some new networking contacts?  That’s have the opportunity to learn more information from other attendees and if the job fair company attending clients are not overly swamped by the large number of candidates you may develop contacting leads from them.  Regardless of what the final result is from attending a job fair what you get out of it will be what you plan to achieve and how you plan to achieve it!

Goals for Attending the Fair

Why should you attend your local career or job fair? There are any number of goals for attending a career fair, depending on where you are in the job-search cycle.  It is imperative that you decide what your goal will be BEFORE you attend the event.  Some goals can be: 

Networking: As a job seeker one of the key benefits of attending a career fair is meeting new people -- recruiters, other job-seekers, career professionals -- to add to your network of contacts. This can be vital if you are changing your career direction or searching for options within viable fields.
Jobs Locally: Most job fairs are designed to gather candidates for positions within the geographic region of the fair, so employers may be searching for qualified local job-seekers.  In addition you can learn what the future plans are for local companies.
Jobs Long-Distance: Even if you are thinking of relocating, it makes sense to meet with recruiters of national firms who can pass your contact information on to recruiters in other parts of the country. 
Internships: For the Fifty Plus as well as college students or completing and updating of skill sets, this goal is the most common for attending a career fair -- to establish contacts to obtain an internship for an upcoming semester or summer or future employment options.  This methodology promotes your continuation of updating your skills for today’s job needs
Gain Experience: Even if you are not currently in the job market, there is nothing like gaining valuable experience in mastering the art of working job fairs -- especially if you are typically shy. The more experience, the more confident for when it really matters. Remember networking is a life long career building process.

There are Key Elements for Job Fair Success

These key elements are necessary to keep you from wasting you valuable time.  It is important to keep in mind that your job search activities are part of your current job.  That job has a value and that value is equal to your time and money.  If you were a marketing professional in your last job you earned an average of $40 to $65 per hour.  While attending a Career fair you need to operate as if you are at work and are paid that amount per hour, so make your activity equal to that time.  
There are three important elements that will lead to success at career fairs? 
Things to Do BEFORE the career fair
Things to Do DURING the career fair
Things to Do AFTER the career fair

Preparing BEFORE the Fair

Here's what you need to do to best prepare BEFORE you attend the career fair.  Some of these steps are simple but without this planning you can affect your success. 
Identify and research prospective employers
Map out fair strategy
Have a clear career focus
Prepare resume(s)
Update you Personal Marketing Portfolio
Rehearse Personal Presentation speech
Practice typical interview question responses
Develop list of thought provoking questions to ask recruiters
Decide on proper career fair attire
Get organized the night before
Now let’s examine what each of these steps should include.  Although this may sound trivial the important aspect of doing this is to eliminate those activities that do not promote your objectives.

Pre-Register for the Fair

Whenever possible, you should visit the career fair's Website and pre-register for the event.   
The idea behind pre-registering, of course, is that employers get a chance to prescreen applicants and possibly make note of applicants they want to meet at the fair. If the Website requires you to submit a resume prior to attending, Attendees should present a Personal Promotion Letter, highlighting applicable specific skills directed to the companies where you may have an interest.  In addition, make a note on the Personal Promotional Letter that you will provide each company with a full resume when you attend.  

If a potential company has a valid interest in your skills most recruiters will make a note to watch for you at the event.  This is a tactic that is utilized by trained recruiters and helps the Boomer stand out from the recently graduated, less experienced or non qualified candidates. And, of course, by pre-registering, you can also get a sneak peak at the organizations that will be attending the fair. 

Identify -- and Research -- Prospective Employers

One of the greatest strategies for career fair success is to obtain the list of organizations attending the fair -- either from the fair's Website or brochure. 

Once you have this list, the key is identifying the prospective employers that most interest you. Note: Don't immediately discount employers based on industry or perceptions (or misconceptions).  Many companies that you see on this list have hidden jobs that are not going to be promoted at job/career fairs.  The recruiters always have a hidden agenda.
Decide what and how many companies you may have any interest.  Once you have made a list of those key employers you want to meet at the fair, your task is to learn key facts about each of them so that you can showcase your knowledge to the recruiter(s). Develop your approach to show how Boomers add value and how you as a Boomer will add specific value to the needs of the organization.

Examples of information you can obtain (from the organization's Website, news organizations, and Internet searches or even direct contact with the companies in advance of the fair: 
Organizational structure and breadth
Key products/services
Organizational culture and values
Hiring practices
What issues you see that the organization faces and how you can be part of solving those

Mapping Out a Valid Strategy

One of the other reasons for obtaining the list of organizations that will be attending the career/job fair is so that you can prepare a strategy. 
This advice may sound a bit extreme, but to enhance your chances for success, you should develop a plan of attack -- actually map your route of organizations you plan to visit, in priority order. Place the prospective employers that have the best fit and with which you have the most interest first on the list -- and work your way downward. 

By mapping out your strategy you will be able to produce positive networking contacts with individuals who have the same industry experience or contacts for new tracks for contacts.  Select companies that will provide you with information to assist your job acquisition process.  If the recruiter is not busy ask to talk with him for a short time and exchange information and requests for contacts.

Be sure to send a thank you to any recruiter that you have contacted for networking opportunities.
One final note: Even though you will visit/interview with your primary prospective employers first, it also makes sense -- if you have time (and if the recruiters are not overly busy) -- to double back and thank the recruiters again as you make your way out of the fair. 

Have a Clear Career Focus

If a recruiter asks you, "why are you here?" ... can you answer that clearly and succinctly? As a Boomer you are there for networking opportunities more than for any potential “entry level” positions.  Unless the job/career fair is specific in its agenda for specific individuals with specific requirements most jobs are nothing more than entry level or high turn over positions.  When this is the case NETWORK with recruiters. Before heading to the fair, in fact, before you conduct any of the other recommended pre-fair activities, sharpen and clarify your networking and career focus. If you have no career focus whatsoever, many Boomers will have no initial career focus when attending their first or second job/career fair, start with some career assessment and career exploration. 

If you know what you want to do, but want to be better able to express it, then consider these tactics for doing so: 
Review job postings and use some of the words (keywords) used to describe your ideal job
         into your career focus; Boomers need to hone in their keywords to emphasis value, and
         problem solving capabilities.
Focus on your strengths, but consider developing an entire SWOT analysis; Boomers must
         use this analysis to assist in developing value and problem solving capabilities and how
         they will relate to the career path to be taken.
Make a list of your skills and abilities;
Identify your key accomplishments from past employment and volunteer situations. Enclose
         those accomplishments with quantitative and qualitative examples in a value added, and
         problem solving capability.

Prepare Your Resume(s)

In the ideal world of job-seeking, for the Boomer, when attending a career fair, you would bring the following resumes with you: 
Targeted by prospective employer -- where you identify the employer in your job objective
         and the specific job and use some of the same language the employer uses in its corporate
         communications (Website, job postings, media releases, etc.). 
Targeted by career/job focus -- when you have more than one career focus (such as brand
         management but also public relations), you should develop different versions of your resume
         for each career.
Standard resume -- your basic, nicely formatted resume... so that you are ready for any
         situation that may arise.
Text resumes -- text versions of your standard resumes on the chance that the recruiter
         prefers a version the organization can easily scan into a database.
Personal Marketing Portfolio designed for the job you want and the industry you are
         reaching in your job search.

Polish Your Personal Marketing Portfolio
Bringing your Personal Marketing Portfolio to the job/career fair is a necessity, but it's a professional way to carry around your resumes and stash the business cards you collect from recruiters -- as well as an excellent way to reach into the depth of your skills and achievements, for the job you are seeking should the situation arise where you could showcase an element from your portfolio. You should have extra copies, limited in nature and content from the master to leave with a qualified recruiter
What is a Personal Marketing Portfolio? It is a job-hunting marketing tool that you develop that gives employers a complete picture of who you are -- your experience, your education, your accomplishments, your skill sets -- and what you have the potential to become -- much more than just a resume can provide. A typical portfolio contains several versions of your resume where you select a specific one for the job you desire, a list of your accomplishments, samples of your work, certifications, testimonials, honors and awards, and for Boomers a specific page listing from three to four reasons with detailed explanations why a company NEEDS you! 

As a Fifty Plus attendee the Personal Marketing Portfolio gives you an edge over other candidates because it magnifies your skill sets, accomplishments and organization to stand out, even think outside the box to promote your problem solving abilities. 

Rehearse Your Personal Marketing Speech

You're only going to get a very limited amount of time to make an impression on each recruiter -- much less so than in a traditional job interview -- so the key for you is to develop and rehearse your personal marketing speech.  As the name implies, an personal marketing speech is a relatively short -- typically 15 to 30 seconds (though sometimes as long as a few minutes) -- commercial that job-seekers use in a variety of situations (career fairs, networking events, job interviews, cold calling) that succinctly tells the person you are giving it to who you are, what makes you unique, and the benefits you can provide. Studies have shown that Boomers who promote skills and problem solving abilities in their personal marketing speech gain interviews 66% more than the standard presentation.

Practice Responses to Typical Interview Questions

It's a prudent idea to prepare and practice responses to typical job interview questions. You don't want to memorize your responses, but you also don't want to seem as though you have never heard the question before. In developing your answers Boomers need to develop answers that highlight your experience in problem solving and qualitative and quantitative ways.

It is best and I suggest writing your responses to typical interview questions as a memory aid, but how you do it is up to many cases 4 x 6 index cards are useful. Interestingly, the personal marketing speech you just worked on is a great response to use when the interview asks one of the most common questions of all: "tell me about yourself."  Unless it's a very slow day at the career fair, you will not get asked too many questions, but I also know job-seekers who have actually been asked to complete a more detailed screening interview -- at the job/career fair. So, being overly prepared will not hurt you. 

Other common interview questions: 
What do you really want to do in the balance of your working career? 
Why did you choose this career or leave your previous career now?
What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
Describe the best job you've ever had.
What makes you qualified for this position?
What’s the most recent book you’ve read? 
What can you tell us about our company? 
What interests you about our products? 
What do you know about our competitors? 

Personal Marketing Speech Do's and Don'ts

(Prepared by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., employment counseling expert and modified by M Blacker) 
Here are the keys to successfully developing and using a Personal Marketing Speech in your job-search. Follow these simple rules and you should achieve success with this important tool of job-hunting. 
Do make your Personal Marketing Speech sound effortless, conversational, and natural. 
Do make it memorable and sincere. Open a window to your personality. 
Do write and rewrite your speech, sharpening its focus and eliminating unnecessary words
         and awkward constructions.
Do avoid an Professional Marketing Speech that will leave the listener mentally asking "So
Do consider including a compelling "hook," an intriguing aspect that will engage the listener,
         prompt him or her to ask questions, and keep the conversation going.
Don't let your speech sound canned or stilted.
Do practice your speech. Experts disagree about whether you should memorize it, but you
         should know your speech well enough so you express your key points without sounding as
         though the speech was memorized. Let it become an organic part of you. Many experts
         suggest practicing in front of mirrors and role-playing with friends. Certified Professional
         Virtual Assistant Jean Hanson advises practicing in the car on the way to networking
Don't ramble. Familiarizing yourself as much as possible with your speech will help keep
         you from getting off track.
Do be warm, friendly, confident, and enthusiastic. A smile is often the best way to show
         friendliness and enthusiasm, while a strong, firm voice the best way to express confidence.
Do take it slowly. Don't rush through the speech, and do pause briefly between sentences.
Do project your passion for what you do.
Do maintain eye contact with your listener.
Don't get bogged down with industry jargon or acronyms that your listener may not
Do be prepared to wrap up earlier than you were planning if you see the listener's eyes
         glazing over or interest waning.
Don't hesitate to develop different versions of your Personal Marketing Speech for different
         situations and audiences.
When developing a Personal Marketing Speech for a specific employer you've targeted, do
         research the organization and incorporate that knowledge into your speech. If you're cold-
         calling a hiring manager and get his or her voicemail don't be afraid to leave your Personal
         Marketing Speech as a voice message. You may be even more successful getting action
         from the speech than if you had talked to the manager personally.
Do incorporate examples and stories to help support your points. Provide examples of
         successful outcomes of deploying your skills. Stories make your speech memorable.
Don't focus just on yourself, an approach that will almost assure a "so what?" reaction.
Do focus on how you can benefit employers and help them solve their problems. Remember
         as you deliver your Elevator Speech that the listener may be mentally asking, "What's in it
         for me  (or my company)?" 
Do use concrete, listener-friendly language, but at the same time, don't be afraid to paint  
         vivid word pictures.
Don't forget to include your competitive advantage also known as your; in other words. how
         you can perform better than anyone else.
Do end with an action request, such as asking for a business card or interview appointment.
Don't forget to update your speech as your situation changes.
If you are uncomfortable with the kind of speaking that the Personal Marketing Speech
         entails, do consider joining a group such as Toastmasters to boost your confidence.

Questions That You Can Ask the Recruiters
Just as with any interview situation, you should always prepare a few questions to ask the recruiters you meet at career fairs. You won't always be able to ask them, but asking questions demonstrates your interest, so it is always a good decision to have a few thoughtful questions to ask. (And you never want to be in a decision where you are asked if you have any questions and you decline.) 
One other point. Don't ask really obvious questions or questions you could easily answer from visiting the organization's Website. 
So, what are the types of questions you should ask? 
Can you describe a typical day for someone in this position? 
Why did you choose this career?
Can you describe the company’s management style?
What do you think is the greatest opportunity facing the organization in the near future? The          biggest threat?
Why did you come to work here? What keeps you here?
What are the traits and skills of people who are the most successful within the  
What changes do you anticipate in the organization?
Are new employees assigned mentors?
Is travel expected for this position. If yes, how often and how long.
When can I expect to hear from you again? 
Choosing Proper Job/Career Fair Attire
It's a cliche, but a cliche for a reason. Job-seekers must dress for success for all interviews, including career fairs. 
And what is the proper career fair attire? For most career fairs -- certainly all professional career fairs -- it consists of a clean-cut, well-fitting, conservative look featuring darker colors (such as navy, black, slate). 
Sometimes younger job-seekers make the mistake of wearing something that looks more suited for happy hour at a popular club than it does for an interview. And it is always safer to err on the side of dressing too conservatively. For women, this means keeping skirt length to around the knee. 
Besides the clothing issues, your strategy should be to cover all (or as many as possible) visible tattoos and display minimal piercings. Keep jewelry to a minimum. And polish those shoes. Wear little or no cologne/perfume. 
Get Organized the Night Before
It's a good idea, whenever possible, to gather all the materials you need for the career fair the night before the event. Doing so will make the time before the event less stressful for you. 
So, gather everything you will need for the career fair: 
Portfolio (or at least a folder to hold everything)
Breath mints (not gum) 
Finally, don't forget to plan your attire -- and then make sure you get a good night's sleep so that you are rested for the event. 
Success DURING the Fair
Here's what you need to do to make the most of the opportunities while at the career fair: 
Arrive early, get your bearings
Review list of attendees for last-minute additions
Implement your career fair strategy
Make a good first impression
Be courteous, polite
Don't leave without contact information
Ask about the next steps in hiring process
Jot down interview notes after you walk away from recruiter
Network with other job-seekers, professionals
Always stay positive

Arriving at the Event

Whenever possible, arrive as early as possible to the career/job fair. You want to talk to the recruiters while they are still fresh and eager to meet candidates. As the day wears on, everybody gets tired. Once you arrive at the fair venue, sign-in, and grab (or create) your nametag. Do you know where to place the tag? If you said your right lapel, give yourself a gold networking star; nametags get placed on your right -- not your left -- so as you extend your arm for a handshake, the person can easily glance up your arm to your nametag. Works like a charm. Finally, take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and scan the venue -- or a map of the venue -- to find the key organizations you want to talk with first. 

Check for Additional Organizations

One last step before you head out onto the floor and work your career fair magic. You should always check for last-minute additions to the list of recruiting organizations. There always seem to be a few late additions to the list -- perhaps waiting on budget issues or personnel decisions -- but whatever the reason, they are now there and it pays to spend a few minutes checking before you implement your career fair plan. 

Implement Your Fair Strategy

You've arrived early, gotten your bearings, calmed your nerves, and checked for any last-minute additions to the list of recruiters... 
It's now time to implement your career fair strategy! Go for it! 
And as you head on to the floor toward your first organization, remember these next few tips. 

First Impressions are Everything

You've probably heard this advice too many times, but it MUST be repeated here: First impressions are critical, especially so at a career fair where you have such a short time with each recruiter. If you blow that first impression, you've lost that opportunity. 
How do you make a good first impression? 
The four key ingredients to a good first impression are: 
Short introduction using a natural, but forceful voice (especially if you are typically a quiet
         person; but please, no shouting)
Strong eye contact
Firm handshake (not limp, damp, or bone-crushing)
Gentle smile

And if there is a long line to meet the recruiter, remember to relax and not get over-anxious -- or worse, to make noises like your time is more important than anyone else's. 

Politeness Goes a Long Way

During your meet and greet with the recruiters, always remember your manners; politeness goes a long way in building a lasting positive impression. 

How does politeness manifest itself? 

Don't overstay your welcome; meet with the recruiter, make your pitch, get the key
         information you need, but don't linger too long -- especially if there is a long line of people
         behind you.
Maintain a comfortable distance; when talking with the recruiter, you want to be close
         enough to be able to communicate, but not so close that you invade the recruiter's personal
Ask if the recruiter needs anything; most fairs have a refreshment station for recruiters, but if
         they are swamped they often don't have the time to get refreshments, so offering to get
         them a water or soda can make a big impact.
Always, always, always thank the recruiter for his or her time.

Never Leave Without Contact Information

As you wrap-up your time with each recruiter, always be certain to get key contact information. 
Most recruiters will either give you their business card or have them on the table, but if you don't see one, ask for a business card. What do you do if the recruiter does not have a business card? Ask for his/her contact information. Be especially careful in getting the title correct, as well as the spelling of his/her name. 

Some career fair organizers now provide attendees with all the recruiter contact information, but even with that as a back-up, you should still try and get the information from each recruiter (especially for things like the spelling of the person's name). Prepare  printed 3 x 5 cards that can be purchased from Avery, where you can design a form with all the contact information you need with each new network contact you make.

Always Ask About the Next Step
There are two final things to ask before thanking the recruiter for his or her time and moving on to the next organization. 
First, ask about the next steps in the recruitment process. What can be expected to happen next? What is the timetable? Is there anything you can do to aid in the decision-making (such as submitting work samples, transcripts, etc.)? 

Second, ask about the preferred method of following-up your conversation. Some folks love email, others prefer a phone call. Ask for his or her preference. 
Importance of Note Taking
Listen attentively in each recruitment interview. Listening skills are an often overlooked part of good communications skills -- and listening intently is often harder to do when you are focused on making a good first impression and pitching yourself to the recruiter. 
Listening is one thing; remembering everything is another. So, be prepared to take down some notes on each interview. 

There are two approaches to note-taking, and you should choose the one you are most comfortable with. 

First, you can take notes during the interview. As you meet the recruiter and remove your resume from your portfolio, simply keep your portfolio open to a pad of paper where you can jot down key bits of information from the interview. (Just don't spend the whole time taking notes; use a short-hand if you have to and don't feel compelled to write down every piece of information.) 
Second, you can wait until the moment you end the interview. Walk away from the table to a spot away from the foot traffic and take a few minutes to recall and write down all the key information from the interview. This method works best if you have great short-term memory recall. 
Always Keep Positive Attitude
Attending a career fair can be a draining experience -- always having to be "on" for the recruiters, repeating your elevator speech over and over again. 
So, as needed, take breaks. Sit somewhere off to the side and kind of get re-centered and refocused on your goals and your plan. If you need to, get a snack or go to the bathroom and sprinkle cold water in your face -- whatever it takes to regain the positive energy you need to face the remaining recruiters. 
Taking breaks will add to your time commitment to the fair, but if you're job-seeking, most of your time should be centered on job-search activities. 

What to do AFTER the Fair

Once you have implemented your plan and finished up at the fair, you still have work to do, but take a much-deserved break before starting these activities. 
Here's what you need to do to make the most of your opportunities from the career fair: 
Write thank-you notes to all the recruiters you met
Write notes to anyone else you met that you want to keep in your network
Organize all your contact information, notes, and literature from the fair
Devise a follow-up plan

Write Thank-You Notes to Recruiters and Network Contacts

Shortly after attending the career fair, take the time to write thoughtful thank-you notes to each recruiter you met, ideally highlighting something from your interview that will help the recruiter remember you. 
If you remember to ask the recruiter's preferred method of contact, send the thank-you via that method. If uncertain, send one by email for the immediacy, but send one by postal mail too for the lasting impression that kind of document can still make (enclosing another copy of the resume along with the letter). 

Acknowledge New Network Contacts

While you are in the writing mode, you should also take the time to write a quick note to any new network contact you made at the career fair. One of the keys to keeping your network of contacts strong -- and involved in your career -- is by keeping in regular contact with them.  As with the recruiters, remember to thank them for their time and acknowledge any help they have already provided to you. 

Organize All Contact Information

Not everyone has great organization skills, and if you are organizationally-challenged, now is the time to develop a system to keep all your career fair information and contact details handy. 
If you want to keep all the literature you picked up at the fair, consider some sort of filing system or accordion folder. 

For all the other information, perhaps a spreadsheet is the simplest manner for keeping everything organized. You can even scan business cards into your computer as a way of keeping electronic copies of key information. 

Follow-Up, Follow-Up, Follow-Up

It's critical in all job-search situations to have a follow-up plan -- and then to implement that plan. 
If a recruiter says check back in a week to see where the organization is in the hiring process, you MUST do so. 
Here are some key facts to remember about career fairs. 
Don't leave the fair without a few job leads
Your goal should be to get to the next step with as many prospective employers as
         possible, either testing or an interview
Follow-up is essential; be professional, but do the follow-up
Don't leave the fair without a fistful of business cards and the sense that you established
         solid rapport with a number of people
Making contacts and building relationships is your mission
There's less pressure on you, so you should be able to get more accomplished at the fair in
         achieving your goals

Don't leave the fair without some solid leads on potential internships
Always ask about internships, even if the fair literature says they are just hiring full-time
At this stage, going to as many career fairs as possible to learn how to work is essential to
         current and future success

Career Fair Do's and Don'ts

Here are some critical career fair do's and don'ts. 

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