Career Coach: How to Work a Job Fair

The Career Coach gives strategies and tips on how to work the job fair, especially at SIGGRAPH 2005.

Industry specific job fairs or career fairs like those held at conferences or festivals can be an excellent source of job leads. To get the most out of a job fair, prepare carefully before you go. Here are tips about what to do and what you can expect from a job fair.

What a Job Fair is

A job fair is a huge recruiting event where you can talk to many employers in one day. Be prepared for a crowd. According to Connie Woods Winn, vp, career services specialist for The Art Institutes, and vp, career services specialist Western Group, Education Management Corp., and co-chair of the ACM SIGGRAPH Job Fair says more than 3,000 applicants attended the job fair at SIGGRAPH in 2004 and 5,000 applicants are expected this year. Last year about 30 companies participated in the job fair at SIGGRAPH. This year 55-60 companies are expected to participate. Because all job fairs feature a large number of employers, they will attract an even larger number of job applicants.

Why Companies Participate in Job Fairs

Companies are looking for top talent, states Winn. They can meet with people from all over the world in one place. Rachelle Lewis, manager of recruitment, Digital Domain, adds, Companies participate in job fairs in order to meet with a lot of artists and technical candidates all in one place and in a short amount of time. Its an incredibly efficient way to build your talent pool.

Why Job Applicants Attend

Because there are many employers in one location, a job fair is an efficient way to make contact with dozens of hiring companies from all over the world and possibly get an interview.

Should I Attend?

I already have a job in the industry should I attend the job fair?

If youre unhappy in your job, or frustrated by lack of opportunity for advancement, a job fair is a good place to investigate other companies and meet other prospective employers.

However, employers as well as prospective employees attend job fairs. Even if your current employer does not attend, it is certainly possible that you will be recognized by someone, and your attendance might be reported to your boss. If you value your current job, a job fair may be a risky place to causally investigate other opportunities.

Companies come to job fairs because they are an incredibly efficient way to build the talent pool.

What to Prepare

Immediate contact information: In case an employer wants to contact you immediately, include your cell number and pager number (with area codes) and hotel contact information on your résumé. You want the employer to be able to reach you at any time. Include your name, permanent contact information, and email address on everything you give an employer as well so they can contact you at a later date.

Disposable portfolio: Create a disposable portfolio which will include screen shots from your demo reel, your résumé, and the best work of your portfolio. Every page should have your current contact info on it, including email addresses and websites if you have one, as well as your phone number with area code. This disposable portfolio is often called a leave behind and you should have enough copies so that every employer participating in the job fair can have one.

Reel: Applicants should have plenty of copies of their résumés, demo reels and shot breakdowns, states Suzanne Datz, head cheerleader, Zoic Studios. Shot breakdowns are important because without them we cannot know what portion of a shot the applicant was responsible for. A shot breakdown is a list describing what you did on every shot on your reel. If you did everything, say so. Some people put slates on their reel before each shot describing what they did. Some companies like Zoic prefer DVDs while others prefer VHS cassettes. But everyone agrees that you must put your best stuff up front, keep your reel concise and include only high quality work, label your reel with your name and contact info, and always include a shot breakdown.

Pitch/Introduction: You must be ready to pitch yourself in 15 seconds. Write down five strong reasons why someone would want to hire you (what makes you special and unique). Pick the strongest one and pinpoint accomplishments or experiences in which that asset was instrumental to your success. If you have trouble with this, ask family, friends and former employers to help you identify the one or more qualities that set you apart from others competing for jobs. Once you have identified an exceptional quality that goes beyond the basic qualifications for the job something that sets you apart from other candidates, you need to communicate this to potential employers in your 15-second sales pitch.

Be prepared to present yourself clearly, smoothly and with confidence in 15 seconds.

Heres an example:

Identify who you are. (My name is Pamela Thompson.)

Describe in one or two sentences your profession, occupation, or background. (Im an independent recruiter with 10 years experience recruiting for the entertainment business, mostly in visual effects, games, and animation. I have a production background in these areas so I know what employers need.)

Spell out what you want from the person youre talking to. (Im looking for a company that needs help in finding top talent.)

You can vary this basic pitch depending on the situation, your audience and what aspect of your background you want to highlight. Be able to present this thumbnail picture clearly, smoothly and with confidence.

How to Prepare Before the Job Fair

If the job fair has a website or brochure, check it out prior to the job fair to see who will attend. Research all the participating companies before the event. Go to the website and get as much info about the companies attending the job fair as you can. Make a list of the companies whose work you like, urges Lewis. Datz agrees, Do research on the companies attending the job fair so you know which companies do which kind of work and what kind of artists they need.

Company websites often have news articles about the company, including press releases that describe both past projects and future projects. Study the staff listings. Read the bios of the company leaders and note names of human resources personnel. If the company is public, check its stock performance and annual reports. Take notes on what its upcoming projects are and what their current job openings are. Make a list of those companies looking for someone with your skills and background and set those as a priority to see on the day of the job fair. Prepare a chart listing the company name, job openings, projects (both future and past) and leave space for notes youll glean from the job fair.

Madeleine Slutsky, director of career services, The Illinois Institute of Art Chicago, and co- chair of the ACM SIGGRAPH Job Fair suggests, Be open to all the different companies that are participating in the job fair both high profile and lesser known. Those that have less name recognition might just have the perfect job opportunity. Datz concurs, I would also advise that applicants who really want to work in features not overlook a company because, for example, they work primarily on TV projects. It is an ever-changing industry and by limiting yourself to one area of the industry, I believe applicants do themselves a disservice.

Do your research and make notes before coming to a job fair.

If possible, apply for the job before the job fair. Contact companies in advance and ask them if they are pre-screening people before the conference. Ask them what exactly they are looking for and try to get a scheduled interview. Do that two or three months before a big conference like SIGGRAPH, advises DDs Lewis.

What to Wear

Wear comfortable shoes. Look sharp and pay attention to details. First impressions count so make an effort to look professional. What you wear to an interview and to a job fair is not self-expression, its marketing. Recruiters assume you need a job at a job fair you dont need to prove it by dressing like a homeless person.

How to Navigate the Job Fair

There will be human resources representatives from about 55-60 companies. Dont just walk through the room and decide which booths to approach. Instead of wandering around aimlessly, make a list of the companies whose work you like and make sure you hit those studios. Utilize your time wisely. Its easy to get distracted once you are there. Make sure you hit the studios you are most interested in. You could spend three weeks at the conference and not talk to everyone, warns Lewis. Use the chart you created and check off the companies on your chart youve met with as you navigate the job fair.

Make an impression with your interview. Prepare your strategy in advance so you leave a positive impression. Dont be shy, but dont be obnoxious either.

Make an Impression

Each employers time is valuable. With scores of attendees and dozens of companies, preparing your strategy in advance will help ensure that the few minutes you have with each employer is productive and leaves a positive impression. Tailor your approach to the limited time you will have with any employer. Datz says, Applicants should not be shy, nor should they be obnoxiously self-confident, either.

Smile, extend your hand and introduce yourself using your 15-second pitch. Speak loud enough so they can hear you above the crowd. Youve done your homework so you know what the employer needs and your career goals are a perfect match. This is your chance to tell the employer that you understand he/she is looking for x and you are x. You want the employer to make a note on the back of your résumé/leave-behind which will make them contact you. Give the recruiter your marketing materials (résumé, reel, shot breakdown, disposable portfolio) and ask about the job(s) you are interested in. Do not be a time waster. There will be lines at many of the booths. The employers want to visit with as many people as they can so keep your introduction brief and meaningful, suggests Winn.

Some Donts

Dont eat while walking through a job fair. Dont talk on your cell phone unless it is an employer calling to line up an interview. Dont chew gum. Dont bring children with you.

Some Dos

Take note(s): Bring pens and a notebook, where you can keep notes organized better than on the backs of fliers or your own résumé.

Get a business card: Ask for a business card and write down whatever you might have discussed at the job fair on the back. Organize those cards so when you get home, you can follow up.

Practice courtesy: Winn reminds, Be nice to everyone you meet not just those behind the booths. You never know who the person next to you is or what company they may be representing.

What You Can Expect During the Job Fair

It seemed like everyone was there. I felt like I got a bums rush they didnt even look at my reel.

With hundreds of applicants visiting the booths, the company recruiters wont have a chance to view your reel during the job fair and have you go through it with them. Its essential that your package is properly prepared and you include a résumé and shot breakdown. Your reel will be reviewed but its impossible to have it reviewed during the fair itself. (If youre extremely lucky your reel may be reviewed that night.)

Make sure to have plenty of copies of your résumé, portfolio and reel to leave behind.

What You Can Expect After the Job Fair

I gave them my reel. I havent heard anything and its been two weeks already.

It will take several months after a big conference like SIGGRAPH for the reviewers to get through the hundreds or thousands of reels theyll receive at SIGGRAPH. Thats why it is such a good idea to send your reel to employers two or three months before a big job fair or conference so they can review your reel under the best conditions. Dont expect to hear from an employer unless he wants to interview you. If anyone does take the time to give feedback, listen, take notes and thank them profusely for taking the extra effort to help you.

Follow-Up

You have to stand out from those thousands of other applicants they met at the job fair. Most applicants will never do any follow-up after the fair, but if you have discovered a company that interests you, stay in contact with them periodically and send an updated résumé and reel every six months. Continue to express an interest in the company and try to set up a time for an interview.

The job fair at SIGGRAPH will be held on Tuesday, August 2 and Wednesday, August 3, 2005. Doors open at 10:00 am and close promptly at 4:00 pm. There will also be a place where job seekers can post their résumés at the Career Center free of charge. Candidates should provide plenty of copies of their résumé to the Career Center so they can fulfill requests from employers.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is making several presentations at this years SIGGRAPH conference, including Course 22: Résumés and Demo Reels: If Yours Arent Working, Neither are You, and participating in a panel called Educating the Educators and making an abbreviated presentation on résumés and demo reels in the educators program as well. When shes not speaking, shell probably be found at the Career Center or Job Fair. Pamela is a recruiter, hiring strategist, and career coach and speaks often on career issues at conferences and colleges.

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