Dear New Shrink,

I recently found out about an industry career fair that I would like to attend. I am currently two years into my first job, which I secured through a friend so I never really had to interview or attend any events. I have never been to a formal career fair and have no idea what to do. Please help!

Thank you,

Fair Newbie

Dear Newbie,

Focused career fairs can be a great way to meet a number of local companies looking to hire or connect with area professionals. The more specialized the event, the more important it is that you have a clear understanding of the industry and how you see yourself fitting into it.

Start by finding out who will be attending; most organizers will include this information on the web site or in brochures advertising the event. Create a master list of the firms who will be participating, then visit the corporate web site for each company and read the “about us” sections to get a sense of the company focus and clients. Add keywords and descriptors to your master list. Then visit the “career” section of the site to learn more about their current openings and hiring practices. Take time to review their open positions and consider how you might be able to fill their need. Add the titles of these positions and desired qualities to your master list.

After reviewing all the companies, develop a targeted list ranking each of the firms. Since you probably will not have time to connect with all of the firms it is important that you have a game plan established prior to the event. Consider ranking the firms into three categories based on how well the firm fits your career plan. This will allow you to concentrate your efforts on your top category while also listing out those you would like to connect with if time allows.

Beyond developing a strategic list you should also think of questions that you would like to ask of the professionals representing each firm. The questions you pose should show your knowledge of the firm and their hiring goals while gathering key details that will allow you to strengthen your application. Consider taking time to learn about the typical projects, company culture, and the career paths of the professionals attending the event.

Preparing for the fair will also entail getting all of your documents ready to go. Review your resume and make sure to add in the details of your current position. Focus on including details that highlight your strengths and accomplishments while connecting directly with your career goals. The job descriptions you review during your research phase can be useful in helping you fine-tune your resume. If you have friends who work in the industry you’re targeting ask for their advice in tailoring your resume and highlighting the key skills required of the industry.

It is also important to work on your introduction or personal pitch. You only have one chance to make a first impression so you’ll want to make sure to do things right from the start. Consider preparing a 30 to 60 second pitch which highlights your personal and professional background and your current career aspirations. This pitch should provide enough of an introduction that the employer gets a sense of who you are, what you’re looking for, and how you fit into the company’s hiring objectives. Practice your personal pitch aloud to a friend or family member so you can focus on making the introduction smooth and natural — your pitch will not be effective if it sounds canned or rehearsed.

On the day of, make sure to dress for success and allow for plenty of time to reach your destination. Dressing professionally will help you make a positive first impression and may help you feel more confident going in. Bring a leather portfolio filled with printed copies of your resume and generic business cards, which list your name, industry, and contact information (note, business cards for your current employer are not appropriate). Make sure to ask for the contact information for each professional you meet and follow-up after the event to thank them for their time. Keeping the connection open will help allow you to make the most of the career fair. In today’s economy there are usually many more attendees than employers; having a well established game plan will help ensure that you have time to connect with those employers who best fit your career goals while also putting your best foot forward. Good luck!

KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Visit her online at www.kdcareer.com.