Job Fairs

Niche Job Fairs Get Bigger Bang For The Buck

Two Clichés stick out in my mind. First, is “doing the same things over and over again – expecting a different result – is the definition of insanity. Second one is “thinking outside the box.” We live in world of clichés and acronyms. So, I’ve been trying to cut down on using them, yet, these two do resonate with me. So, I thought I’d chat about these two sayings for a bit and how it relates to job hunt strategies.

Most folks, I think, tend to approach job hunt with two basic strategic thoughts:

Offline – Use the Sunday Help Wanted as start point. Respond to ads, attend job fairs, and wait. To supplement, check out job centers or local/state employment offices for job postings or openings. Take night courses perhaps, improve on some skills or add new ones. Head to local chamber of commerce, try to source out some new leads. Contact alumni, if applicable and attend networking events, if available. So, these are some of what job seekers do offline (that’s without internet for the computer challenged among us)

Online –,, and the rest of the “any job” Post resumes, post more resumes, wait, wait, post more resumes. I understand that people do get jobs through the internet; I just have not met a whole lot of them.

Interesting detour, read an article on CNN-Money about resumes disappearing into a black hole. One of the people interviewed claimed she sent out over 500 resumes and no response. She was desperate for a response, good, bad, or indifferent. She will wait a while longer, I think. One of the “experts” felt the issue was the tremendous availability of resume producers and online mechanisms that allow people to flood recruiters and HR folks with hundreds more resumes per posting than in the past. Makes sense. With a click of button, not unreasonable to think that one could send out hundreds of resumes quickly via email or job portal. Beats licking stamps I suppose.

Are we insane yet? Time to think outside the box? Tired of being a cliché?

I’m going to share with you some of what I’ve done in the past that were successful. I essentially took a conventional approach and just went deeper.

Doing the same thing inside a box would be going to every job fair that rolls into town and handing out a stack of resumes. This is a step better than mailing out or blasting hundreds emails to whatever company via the help wanted, offline or online. Still, you do get to see a human being. Nevertheless, your chances of success are slim. See my first ezine. But that said, job fairs can be most effective!

So, the last job fair (and it was the last) I went to – went like this. I have prior military experience. This is critical for me, because it’s my alumni. You have yours, be college, high school, vocational school, guys you hung out with at the street corner, mechanic, any group or association that you are remotely tied to, can be your alumni. And there are fairs that target those alumni. And that is huge. Not a generic job fair advertised in the Sunday paper. Not a retail giant’s grand opening job fair. But a job fair for professional nurses, a job fair for HVAC engineers.

Recruiters at a generic job fairs are fishing, collecting resumes, hoping for the best. Recruiters at an alumni job fair are focused. This is the fundamental difference. What am I talking about? Really, I’m talking about working your niche. Are you working your niche right now? Because these fairs may or may not be in the paper. You have to find them, in professional journals, associations, online and so forth.

So, my niche was military. So, I began sourcing every military job fair in the US. That’s right, I lived in Florida at the time, and I sourced every job fair that targeted the military in the US. And of course, this is the unparalleled value of the internet. This kind of research was just not possible 20 years ago when I left the army. Use the internet for research and leave the broadcasting of resumes to others.

Once I had every military job fair several months into the future, I made a list of all the companies attending plus where same companies were attending multiple events.

I researched every company, departments within companies, subsidiaries, names where I could. As I started the research, it became clear to me that the companies that interested me the most were attending the fairs’ farthest away from me. Ain’t it always the case. The potentially profitable fairs were held in places like DC, Boston, and San Diego. But really, the locations were not important. What was important were the companies that interested me and where the research was leading me.

My research actually lead me to a potentially good job fair in Austin, Texas. Living in Orlando, Florida, for me to head to a job fair in the middle of Texas, to drop off a few resumes did not seem like a great idea at first blush. At second blush, tight on money – with a one and half year old growing fast – the thought was just plain nutty.

Still, the standard job fair, the online applications, the Sunday help wanted, the yellow pages, and rest were not working me (do they work for you?), so after much discussion with my wife, we decided to give going to Austin a shot. Even after paying the registration fee and setting some money aside, the closer the date came, the greater and more intense the doubts became. On budget, a tight budget, I decided to drive to Austin. 1,100 plus miles. The thought I would drive 20 hours to drop off a few resumes and drive back home was torture, for me.

But for me, thinking outside the box was research and analysis. It was understanding why I doing it versus, hey, wow, a job fair at the convention, let’s go. And it was not succumbing to paralysis by analysis. It meant having trust in the research, it mean having trust in the preparation and then making a decision and committing to it.

To cut to the chase, showed up at the job fair with resumes in hand, backed by solid research and analysis of which companies I wanted to meet. Had 5 or so onsite interviews (approached 8 companies I think). Went back the next morning for follow-up interviews. After I got home, a few days later, I spoke with them again. Two of companies invited to meet with them again, one flying me to Chicago and the other to Maryland. The job fair was November 8th, by mid-December; I received a written job offer from the company in Maryland which I took. Worked out well.

Gotta tell you though, on the drive home, I was exhausted. Pulled over at a rest area near the Louisiana and Mississippi border around 1am and snoozed in my car for about 5 hours. Woke up, got out, stretched, looked around and saw about 3 dozen other folks doing the same thing. We all chuckled and waved, seemed funny at the time.

Main takeaways

1. Niche, niche, niche

2. Research and Analysis

3. Go where it leads you

4. Decide on the merits of your research and analysis

5. Trust in your decision abilities and commit to your decision

6. Go and take your best shot, knowing you prepared well.

This for me is thinking outside the box. Because if you just keep going to the latest job fair at the closest convention or hotel with a stack of resume, the results probably won’t be much different.

Good Luck

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