FAQ: Should I Go to a Job Fair?

andreas.com FAQ: Job Fairs

Question: Should I go to the Job Fair next week? I’ve heard these events are like cattle stampedes. Is it really worth going to these? Will I get a job there?

Answer: I’ve worked at a number of major Silicon Valley companies and I was at the job fairs on the other side of the fence: I was one of the managers to whom you handed your resume.

Here’s how a Silicon Valley job fair works. A company pays $15,000-20,000 per day for the booth at the job fair. That’s actually cheap because if they can hire just two or three people at the job fair, they avoid paying recruiter fees which are yet higher (often $20,000-30,000 per employee.) So companies have a VERY STRONG INCENTIVE to hire from the crowd at job fairs.

However, the company can’t have all of the managers from all departments in the booth all day long at the job fair. So managers take three-hour shifts to be in booth. Which means if you’re looking for an engineering job, the person at the booth may be in marketing, web services, etc. It’s unlikely the manager at the booth will be the appropriate one. You might get lucky and she’ll be there, but don’t count on it.

But that doesn’t matter. Neither you nor she is going to do a job interview in a booth crowded by thousands of people.

The goal for you: identify potential employers, give them your resume, and contact them again.

So… Your Job Fair Strategy:

  • Bring 100 copies of your resume. More is better than not enough. If you have a multi-page resume, staple the sheets together and put your contact information at the top of every page. A better idea is to create a one-page version of your resume, list your tools and a short list of companies where you’ve worked, and conclude with “For a full resume, email me at…” in large at the bottom.
  • Be sure that contact info is on the resume, esp. your email. This includes your name, a telephone with an answering machine, and your email address. We often saw resumes from people that had a name but nothing more.
  • Get a haircut, wear a nice outfit (don’t overdress) that is appropriate to your job category.
    Here’s a secret: after you walk away from the booth, many managers will grade your resume (A, B, C, and so on.) A means “The person appears competent and interested. Contact this one first.” And yes, there are A++. At the other end of the scale are the few street crazies who always show up at public events. “Warning, Will Robinson!” So dress presentable and look competent.
    This also means “act competent”, even in the parking lot. The managers park in the same parking lot as you. If I’m parking and I see some guy yelling like a jerk at the parking attendant and then later, he come up to my booth, well…
  • Hand the resume to a person at the booth. Make sure they see it and they drop it in the box with the other resumes. Resumes sometimes get lost at the booth.
  • Collect whatever brochures they have about the company, get a business card if you can, say thank-you, and move on. Don’t waste time with conversations at the booth. Don’t collect the toys or candy. You want to find as many appropriate companies as possible.
  • After the job fair is over, HR will go through 500 or so resumes and sort them into categories (engineer, QA, marketing, etc.) They make copies and give the resumes to the appropriate manager in each department. And of course, they rank them by grade. The manager starts with the A+ resumes. So for the next week after the job fair, be by your phone. The first bird that gets the call gets the worm.
    To make sure HR puts you in the right category, put your category at the top of the resume (engineer, tech writer, QA, etc.) Under your name and contact, write a one-line description of yourself: “C++ and Java Engineer, 10 Years Experience” (or similar.)
  • Wait three work days after the job fair and then contact the company. Find the manager for your job (ask the receptionist) and offer to send a resume. HR may have lost it, etc., so send him or her a new resume.
  • Meanwhile, go over the material you collected at the job fair. Check out their websites. Sort the companies by distance, size, and so on, and target the best ones first. Use a stock market website to check out the company’s financial situation. Check out the company’s funding or financial situation. Learn as much as you can about the company so when they call, you’ll be knowledgeable about the company, their products, and their market.
  • The companies at a job fair really are looking for people. That’s why they are paying $60,000 for three days and going through the hard work of getting the managers to go and stand for hours at a booth. So if you have a good resume and look competent, you have a very good chance of getting an interview.

Summary

Go. I strongly recommend it. We hired many people at job fairs. It’s one of the best ways to get a job asides from personal connections.