Convention Connection

Your next job may be as close as a professional conference. Here's how to work it on the job fair circuit.

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Gino Carr lets out a humph as he recounts the tale of a job stint he did in a rotational program for new M.B.A.’s at a division of Honeywell International in Anniston, Alabama, a small town situated between Atlanta and Birmingham. For Carr, coming out of Duke University five years ago, it was a career-transforming opportunity that all started at the job fair at the National Black MBA Association Inc.’s conference.

To come out of a professional conference with a job like Carr did, you’ll have to have a game plan. Have a list of five to 10 companies that you want to target and visit them first. “Don’t haphazardly walk down the aisles and talk to various companies. Have a list [of companies you want to target], but allocate enough time to speak to companies not on your list,” says Carr, 32, who has since been promoted to manager of aftermarket sales and operations for Honeywell in Torrance, California.

Job fairs at professional conferences allow you “to learn more outside of your normal experience” at a job fair, says Lorraine Balun, staff manager responsible for technical recruiting at Allstate Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Illinois. Job fairs offer jobs and that’s it, but “conferences have different speakers [and events], where you get more exposure to what companies are doing.” It’s also a good time to learn more about yourself through seminars on such topics as how to network effectively. But before you board the next flight, follow these tips to become knowledgeable about yourself and the companies that pique your interest. Are you ready? It’s time to make the convention connection.

A job fair at a professional conference is unlike a traditional job fair. Here are a few of the characteristics of the latter: it’s usually a day long; companies are from various fields, such as information technology and healthcare; and they are looking to fill jobs from entry to management level. On the other hand, at a job fair at a professional conference, you’ll discover:

  • There’s more time. There’s more time to talk to recruiters at professional conferences with job fairs because the job fair is running the length of the conference-usually three to four days. Before you get there, you have more time to prepare your résumé and do research, because conference job fairs are advertised months in advance. Oftentimes, news of a traditional job fair pops up in the newspaper during the week of the event, and unless you have prior knowledge, you have little time to prepare.
  • It’s opportunity knocking. The networking opportunities at a professional conference are priceless. From peers and prospective companies, you can find out about the culture of the company you would like to work for, as well as its future plans. For example, “if there is an opportunity to share a conversation,” then introduce yourself and join in, says Balun, who says you must be confident when networking at conferences. Intermingling with a small group, say two to three
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