Hispanic professional society & diversity job fairs at NSHP.org

The dreaded “apply online” - Leveraging face time at career fairs

We have been thrilled this year with the success thus far of the NSHP/LatPro Diversity Career Fairs. Employers and jobseekers alike have had overwhelming praise for the events and we are proud to be able to provide such a forum for the professional advancement of Hispanic professionals.

With all the positive comments and experiences jobseekers have had with our events, occasionally we hear from a job seeker who has heard one-too-many-times from a recruiter, “Go to our website and apply online.” This is because many companies are required by government regulations or their own internal policies or protocols that candidates apply online. It does not mean that the recruiters present are not interested in you.

“But I can apply online in my pajamas from my sofa!” they will later say to me. Well that is true, but there is one incredibly valuable advantage they are gaining at the career fair that they could never get from their sofa… face time. The most important thing is how you choose to use that face time.

Here is my list of suggestions to make the most of your face time with recruiters, even if they can't accept your resume.

1. Be prepared. Don’t go up to a recruiter at a booth at a career fair and ask, “Tell me about your company?” or, “What kind of jobs do you have,” or other questions which show you were clearly not prepared to speak with them. Do your research before you go to the fair. Organizers of career fairs such as NSHP post the confirmed employers for their events weeks in advance.

Go to the event prepared with specific intelligent questions for each employer you would like to talk to. Has their company recently been in the news? Ask a question about that. Has there been a recent acquisition of another company? Ask about how that has impacted their business approach. Demonstrate a knowledge of their company. You want to ask specific questions that will make you stand out from the other jobseekers.

2. Ask for a business card from all of the employers that you speak with. Once you have left their booth and are out of sight, jot down a few notes on the back of their card about specifically what you talked about, and any portion of the conversation that may help jolt their memory about their interaction with you on that day. Indicate on the card if they accepted your resume or told you to apply online. You should take these notes because the day can be long for you as well, and it is easy to start confusing recruiters by the end of the day, so sneak away after each booth and take a couple notes. Recruiters talk to hundreds or thousands of jobseekers at job fairs, so being able to recall something very specific about your interaction is where you can really shine

3. Know how you will respond. It is probable that at least one recruiter at a job fair will encourage you to apply online, so know in advance how you will respond if a recruiter you really wanted to give you quality time directs you to the employers website.

LatPro founder and CEO Eric Shannon suggests an approach such as this: “Susie, I traveled from Boston today to meet you because I am a true XYZ Company fan — I know that with so much traffic here, there isn’t time for us to talk in depth, but, I would like to follow up with you after I apply online… May I do that?”

4. Don’t procrastinate. If they told you to apply online, do it when you get home, or at the latest the next day. Don’t put this off. You want them to receive your application while you are still fresh in their minds, not after they have attended three more career fairs with hundreds more candidates just as enthusiastic as you. Follow step 5 when crafting your cover letter.

5. Leverage your face time even when applying online. If a recruiter tells you to “apply online” still get their name and ask them some deep, thoughtful, questions about the company they are representing (which you already prepared in step 1). When you go home and apply online, mention in your cover letter that you were encouraged to apply by *recruiter name* at the *city* Diversity Career Fair on *date* and that you enjoyed discussing *specifics about discussion* with them. By doing this you have already demonstrated in your cover letter that you are interested enough in employment opportunities with their company that you got off of your sofa to meet with them. That alone can set you apart from hundreds of other online applicants.

When the employer receives your resume, it is likely that the HR person who first sees your resume online may contact the recruiter you mentioned in your cover letter and ask if they remember discussing *specific topic* with you. Best case scenario is that they say, “Why yes I do remember discussing *specific topic* with that candidate at the career fair. He or she was very professional, experienced, and demonstrated a knowledge of our company that many other attendees did not.”

Worst case scenario is that they don’t remember you. If this is the case, at least the recruiter may be more likely to remember your name because they have tried to do a little research on you. The more a recruiter has invested in you, often the better your chances are that they will remember your name and pull out your resume when the perfect job comes along.

6. Be Gracious. After the event, send thank you notes to recruiters of most interest. Be careful here. Don’t be obnoxious or an annoyance. You don’t want to go overboard and litter people’s mailboxes or inboxes with generic form letters about your interest, however if a particular employer and position is of great interest to you, make sure you let them know that.

Remember, you were one of hundreds of faces they encountered that day. Almost all of the other jobseekers acted interested too. If this is “the job” for you, go after it, don’t just hope they will remember your charm and neatly pressed business suit. Refer to the steps from mentioning the face time in step 5 when writing your letter or thank you note.

You may choose to e-mail the recruiter, though be aware they most likely receive hundreds of e-mails a day so your message could be lost. If you decide to send a letter through the US Postal Service, you should either type your letter on a high quality paper (similar to the paper on which you print your resume), or you can hand write a note on a clean, professional looking thank you note card. Do not send your note on any flowery or busy looking stationery.

Here are some approaches to writing your note:

a. If they accepted your resume, thank them for accepting your resume at the event, mention specifically what you discussed with them at the event, and try to do it in enough detail that it will jog their memory about their encounter with you. Express your enthusiasm for the company and the particular position.

b. If they told you to apply online, thank them for encouraging you to apply, mention when you submitted your application online (so they can find it more easily in their database) and again, mention something specific about your conversation with them such as… “I look forward to the opportunity to continue our discussion about how your company’s acquisition of your closest competitor has changed the face of your industry.”

7. And one final tip… Make a day of it. I have observed that the flow of jobseekers is different in every city, but there are almost always a couple times during the day when the crowds thin out. Clear your schedule, arrive early, and plan on making it a day. By being there during those times when the event is less crowded, you may be able to get more face time with a potential employer. Those extra couple minutes you may get with them could be the few minutes you need to make a lasting impression!

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Comment by Joyce Rodriguez on October 23, 2008 at 9:11am
these are excellent suggestions ricardo! thank you so much!

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