The biggest pandemic in 100 years will not end the need for people to go to career fairs to find a job. The nature of the events will likely change for a few years (maybe with grocery store-style plastic screens at booths and virtual rooms) but the need to meet with people will remain. We called experts at career and job agencies to find out what you should do when it's time to get back into those rooms and put on your get-to-know-me badge.
Being there is more than half the battle
ManagerJS, a smart blog by a software developer based in Utah, says those who don't go to career fairs because they are fearful should not worry.
"If some element of preparation prevents you from going and talking to employers, then skip it and just go. Just do it. Don't wait until you need a job. I meet a lot of candidates at job fairs that are going for their first time. If they had chatted with employers every year at the job fair, I believe they would be better prepared."
Do background research before showing up
But preparation is also key. If you know a specific person from a company you are interested in will be at a career fair online or in person, you can do background checks that will help you in a conversation, says Markus.
"Look at their LinkedIn profile. Connect with them on the social networking site before the meeting. Google the company — maybe they're rolling out a big initiative. Maybe they have some great award they won. So when you talk to these people, you're prepared and show motivation," Markus says.
If you want to know who is going to an event, oftentimes the organizer will publish the names and companies online or on social media. If they haven't, you should reach out to the organizers themselves. They will likely let you know who is going!
Talk to as many people as you can
While having a valuable, deep conversation with a few people is more important than talking to people in bulk, boosting your numbers can still be helpful. The National Careers Fair board recommends you maximize your time moving from booth to booth, whether they're virtual or not.
"Professional recruiters expect you to get as much out of the fair as you can and by doing so you need to meet with as many people as possible," the site says.
By talking to a lot of people, you also get to exercise tools in your job-seeking arsenal, especially organizational skills. Algrim.co, a human resources advice site, reminds you that following up with a recruiter after a networking event can help separate you from the rest of the pack.
"You can mention something you wore, something you said, or something you did during the conversation that your recruiter would remember. It may seem strange to include this, but your recruiter will be glad that you took the time to make things a bit easier on them."
Get a contact number
For every person you talk to, get a number. Recruiters and other people at career and industry events are there specifically to meet other people and they want you to reach out to them.
UCLA job experts say to simply ask people for their business card or their LinkedIn equivalent so that you can follow-up quickly. "Thank them for their time and for the information they provided you," the UCLA Career Center says.
If the conversation has gone well, the career center at Rasmussen College says that you should also ask about the next step in the process. "Whether that means getting in touch with human resources, filling out a job application or sitting down for a formal interview," they say.
A key ingredient in good networking at career fairs, now and in the future, is the level of excitement you can bring to each interaction. Markus says people who are excited stand out and tend to get more and better connections. This is expressed through smiling, greeting people with a positive and open manner, looking at people eye-to-eye and standing up straight. Those who aren't and fail to connect with their body language can suffer the consequences and are also easy to spot.
"Most people are so passive, they just sit there. You can tell by their body language, they're not saying anything. They're not contributing to the conversation I'm in. They're just wasting everybody's time, including their own," he says.
Be aware of the latest industry news
Talking about common interests is a key part of making a connection. Communication experts we spoke to told us the best networkers tend to know everything about the economic, legal and administrative parts of the industry as much as they know about how to do their job.
So organize yourself and find out about your chosen profession on social media, newspapers, set Google alarms for industry hot topics, and sign up to and be active in popular forums like Reddit.
You also have to know when to shut up to have a real give-and-take conversation. Markus says his early problem when networking was that he talked too much. But the opposite can also be bad. "I have had interviews where people don't say a word and I'm just like, 'Oh, this is horrible cause I'm just talking to fill the void and you're not saying anything.' So balance it."
Balance in regards to listening also means a natural conversational flow. So don't talk over people, don't interrupt them or switch to random topics, which, Markus says, "means you don't really care what they just said." You don't have to worry about being judged on every word you say, but people do pay attention to your listening etiquette.
Verbalize your interest in the job
Markus says people would be surprised how many interviews with good prospective candidates over the years ended weirdly without a direct statement of interest.
"They have no idea. They just kind of walk out of my meeting at the interview. I'm like, 'I don't even know if they're interested or not.' But when people say, 'Hey Arno, thank you very much. It was a pleasure to speak with you. Thanks for your time. Very interested in the opportunity, please let me know the next steps.' That shows to me they are interested rather than me having to guess."
Look at the part
Onsite events offer an opportunity to be a professional when it comes to your appearance. So don't wear too much makeup or cologne, shine your shoes, wear a clean dress or shirt, and comb your hair. Most all, do this to feel as confident as possible during the events. If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you'll definitely be more likely to feel positive, connect easily with others, and will be likely to get a job.
There's a reason why doing yoga and listening to calming music are well-known techniques to great networking success: They help you relax and allow you to concentrate on your performance.