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Frustration #4: Job Fairs

The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

Like the Cross Bronx Expressway, the job hunter’s road is crowded, strewn with debris, and dotted with potholes. Small wonder that so many people get off at the nearest exit, go back home, and give up. And just like the New York driver, the job hunter has some devices that could be helpful—if only he knew how to use them. One such device is the “job fair.”

Job fairs were created in the years following World War II. At that time, big corporations were rapidly expanding. Each year, they needed to hire thousands of new employees. For example, the carmakers needed truckloads of fresh engineers. So they would hold events at likely locations, like the Engineering Building at the University of Michigan. Supply met demand, and lots of people went home happy.

People today still use that model, bringing together lots of potential employers in a place where lots of job hunters can line up and try to make a first impression that is good enough to get invited for a real interview. But today the fair will likely include employers in many fields, each looking to hire a small number of people. So for any particular job hunter, there will really be only a few possibilities, and the chances of success are small. Studies show that even at the best job fairs, the odds are about 1 in 10. A recipe for more frustration. Unless . . .

If you’ve been reading this column every week, you may know where I’m going with this. The secret to job-fair success depends on finding the companies there that are hiring people like you—and especially the ones that aren’t. As we’ve said before, “not hiring” often means “not hiring today.” Tomorrow? Who knows?

Imagine an accountant who goes to a job fair and walks up to a table where Met Life is looking to hire insurance salesmen. Most accountants will hear this and just keep walking. But our accountant has a job-search coach (I can recommend one), so he sees the opportunity here. He knows that Met Life hires accountants, just not today. So he waits until the line thins out, and then he walks up to the recruiter and makes his pitch. He explains that he feels that his skills are just what Met Life needs, and that he would love to have a chance to work there. He asks for a chance to talk sometime soon, even if there are no openings. He asks for a business card and follows up with an e‑mail the next day. His goal is to get an appointment to come in and talk—to crawl onto the company’s radar screen. He wants them to know he’s out there, and that he’s ready and able to do a great job for them.

Having made his connection at Met Life, our accountant moves on to the next table. Again, he is not only looking for openings, but for connections at any company that employs people that do what he does. Later, on the way out, he meets a friend from accounting school who did not come prepared, who is bemoaning the time he wasted to find no openings. Our accountant had a much more productive day.

The lesson here is that in so many areas, like want ads, résumés, networking, and more, the conventional wisdom, the plain common sense that guides most job searches, is ineffective and often just plain wrong. If you need to find a job, you have no time to waste. Getting the guidance that sets you on the right track takes a few hours, but it can make a lifetime of difference. v

Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at

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Posted by on June 28, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.