is it better to get to a job fair early on or later in the day?

by Ask a Manager on March 5, 2010

A reader writes:

I’m about to attend a federal job fair. It’s all day, but I can’t imagine that I would stay more than an hour or two. Do you think it would be best to show up first thing — showing eagerness (hopefully) and before these agencies are inundated with job seekers (though I’m thinking they will probably be inundated right off the bat) — or toward the end of the day, so they might be more inclined to remember me? I’m thinking probably the former, but am not positive.

I have no idea, actually, because I have no experience with job fairs — but I am very sure that other people have opinions, so I’m posting it here in the hopes that people will weigh in.

I’m also curious to know how useful people have found job fairs to be. Tell us!

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{ 16 comments }

Hank Hill March 5, 2010 at 10:22 pm

When I was in college, the career center always told us that being early was best since by the end of the day the people would be tired, sick of the job fair, and eager to go home.

They had a few fairs at my school, and if you had the career center look over your resume and show up in a suit (which I'd recommend, unless it's like a construction job fair or something), you were allowed in an hour early.

I'd also like to point out that I've been to a few career fairs and I got an interview out of one, but that's it. Overall they ended up being a waste of time, but your mileage may vary.

Lainey March 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I've had a booth at several job fairs and I would recommend showing up later in the day. When the doors first open, there's a huge rush of job seekers and there isn't really proper time to talk to applicants & they're forgotten as soon as they move to the next booth. Toward the last hour or two of the job fair, it slows down considerably (in my experience) and it's then that I have the opportunity to really talk to the people who stop by.

We've gone to many job fairs and I think we've only hired a few people from them, but I think they can be helpful for job seekers who are positive, professional, prepared, and polite. (I wasn't even trying for the alliteration thing at first, but then I had to go for it!) Good luck!

Hannah April 5, 2013 at 9:18 am

Thanks this its very helpful

Anonymous March 6, 2010 at 1:20 am

In my opinion, job fairs are only great for learning about a variety of opportunities at different companies and possibly exploring career fields. Also, they're a great way to find out what exactly the company is looking for in terms of your resume and cover letter. A company representative can usually tell you the tangible skills and experiences they want their employees to have. At this point, you can now tailor your application to look the best. In other words, the job fair is more about educating yourself rather than making an immediate splash with an employer, who probably won't even remember you out of the thousands of faces they just saw.

Kerry March 6, 2010 at 1:57 am

Early. Definitely early. By the end of a job fair I don't remember my own name, let alone yours.

Also, some recruiters leave early if they get tired or feel like they have enough resumes (clue: if you do this, you suck. Especially if you are one of the employers who was advertised as a participant…which I've seen lots of times. This is rude to the organizers of the job fair, to job seekers, and to the other employers who are there. Don't do this.)

I don't know a soul who is hiring at job fairs in this economy…in fact the only one I've seen recently was essentially a publicity stunt for a company that wants to be known for its commitment to creating jobs in the area, even though they actually had few jobs open.

But…if you're not doing anything else, and you need a job, go. It can't hurt. I've hired lots of people from job fairs in my day.

Jess March 6, 2010 at 5:16 am

I go to job fairs to recruit for an EXTREMELY competitive intern program which ia a bit different….
my advice? Doesn't matter when you come as long as you avoid lunch, and don't come in the last half hour when I'm out of materials and packing up.
Dress appropriately.
No one hires from job fairs, but if you make a positive impression, I'll remember.
Have a resume- it's how I remember your name.
Do your research and ask intelligent questions- be enthusiastic, but not falsely so. Stupid questions that are answered on the website are obnoxious. No questions and I won't remember you.

In your cover letter, remind us that we met you at a career fair!

Anonymous March 6, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I've been to a few career fairs over the past few years, and one even was a federal job career fair. The first few times I went early, and as Lainey mentions, the lines are huge. The last few I went to I decided to come more in the middle to later few hours (but not the LAST hour!) I would recommend this. The traffic at the booths was considerably less, so I was able to have more indepth conversations with the representatives. (and as Anonymous mentioned, I had time to ask more questions and educate myself about the company/federal agency.)
And as Jess says, follow up and mention in your cover letter that you met at the career fair. Also share something you talked about, to jog their memory.

As a side note, I learned of a great federal intern position (unpaid) at my first career fair. I followed up and worked there about 6-8 months. I really enjoyed it. Now almost a year and a half later, because of my connections though that I will be leaving a part-time position to begin a new federal full time position. Be open to unexpected opportunities at the career fair. Good luck!

kmg March 7, 2010 at 3:19 am

I don't know in what part of the country you are in, but here in the NorthEast, job fairs have lines out the door and around the corner. Literally.

Last year in New Hampshire there was a career fair… the venue holding it couldn't accommodate the 10,000 people that showed up. They had to turn people away. I remember seeing it on the news here in Boston. I urge you to get very early. Good luck!

fridayprofgroup March 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

We regularly participate in career fairs. If you want to stand out and be memorable, come prepared. Dress appropriately. Bring copies of your resume. Be prepared to answer questions about yourself and the kind of job that you are looking for.

Also, if you can, do some research in advance on the companies/departments who will be participating.

If you show up wearing sweat pants, look like you just rolled out of bed, aren't prepared, or act "entitled" – you won't be hearing from me later.

Charles March 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

I've attended a few job fairs and all were a big "let down."

At the one, which I had high hopes for being different, was held by my Alma Mater for graduate students only. I researched three companies that were planning on being there that I thought I would like to work for. Since I was doing temp work at the time I was not able to go early in the day. However, I did leave work a few hours earlier than usual (and lost that pay, BTW, since it was a temp job).

Once I arrived there (still a couple of hours before the official ending of the fair) I found out that ALL three of those companies that I wanted to talk to had left the job fair. As all the other companies there would not be hiring someone in my field the lost pay and lost time were for naught. Thanks recruiters!

The other job fairs that I have attended have yielded similar, yet less drastic, results.

I have also run into people with whom I have previously interviewed and now seem too embarrassed to even talk to me.

Are there any professional recruiters left out there?

Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 5:34 pm

I had to sit at the job fair booth once at my very first job out of college and I definitely think coming earlier in the day is better. I was exhausted by the end of the day.

Anonymous March 8, 2010 at 6:24 pm

Don't bother going! as someone who's manned a ton of job fair booths I can tell you from experience that they're a waste of time. Employers don't have a hard time finding good candidates for everything except those hard to fill jobs that require specialized skills or the high turnover jobs. Out of the probably thousand people who've given me resumes at job fairs Ive probably hired less than 5. Job fairs, I think, are more PR. Your time is better spent calling random employers in your field asking if they accept unsolicited resumes.

Jacinda March 8, 2010 at 6:57 pm

I've been hired out of a Job Fair.

Caveats:

1) It wasn't this economy, but it was in California in the Silicon Corridor in 2002, and I was one of the estimated 10,000 that showed up.

2) It was a temp gig.

Of course, that temp gig was the first one of about 50 temp gigs I took between 2002 and 2008. During those seven years, I only had 10 months of complete unemployment, 5 of which were while doing student teaching for a master's degree in teaching that I wound up never using— instead I moved states and used some of my temp gigs in California which had a little medical industry involvement to leverage a temp-to-perm in a hospital, in a career I'd never even heard of that I turn out to be pretty darn good at.

Is my experience unusual? Probably.

I got a question March 9, 2010 at 9:34 pm

Here's a related question (let's see if anyone reads it)

Let's say you applied to a position at Company X. Company X reps will be at the career fair. You go to the career fair to speak to Company X recruiters about the position and how you'd be a good fit etc. Do you increase your chances of getting an interview significantly by talking to the recruiters about this particular position? Or is this a bit of a waste of time?

Anonymous March 10, 2010 at 1:03 am

In response to the question about going to the career fair to talk to the recruiter about company X. As a recruiter, I've participated in a number of career fairs. The idea that this is just a waste of applicants time is insulting if you take some time to consider what was said. Why would people waste THEIR time and rent the facility, and go through all the preps if they were not hiring and not interested to meet the potential candideates?
Meeting someone from the company in person, coming prepared makes a huge difference in the employer's eyes. In fact, some of the folks we talked to were invited to stick around and before long they had a 2nd interview. Others were thanked for their time and let go. One of the tips – if you're invited to a waiting area and there's a promotional video being played – pay attention! Some applicatns use this waitingtime to just close their eyes or have a drink. Well, you'll be evaluated on how much you learned while this video was played for you. Be serious about wanting to work for the company and you WILL BE noticed!

Ambrose March 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Later in the day has its benefits. The crowds are usually smaller, allowing for more time with those operating the booths. At the same time, it also means that those individuals are ready to make their way to the door. It is a toss up really. If you find people who are interested in looking for candidates, later in the afternoon could be the way to go.

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