SAN DIEGO, Nov. 24, 2014  — Job fairs are obvious opportunities for career networking, but they require thought and preparation,

according to the author of a new book for those starting out or starting over in a career.

“Job fairs occur all the time, but you may have to go looking for them. Search the Internet, newspapers, college career centers and employment agencies for announcements of upcoming fairs,” says Phil Blair. “Select those that feature companies and careers that interest you. You will also have an opportunity to talk to large companies that are from out of town. Relocation is always the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but may need be an option, even internationally.”

Blair is the author of “Job Won! 500,000 Hires and Counting” (Author House, 2013). For more than three decades he has co-owned Manpower San Diego, the largest Manpower franchise in the U.S. His firm is San Diego’s fourth largest for-profit employer, providing approximately 3,500 jobs daily.

“A job fair isn’t a job interview, but it’s close,” adds Blair. “You must go prepared. Begin by reviewing your career strengths as described in your resume and identified in your earlier self-assessment. Practice introducing yourself and delivering your elevator speech. Be prepared to confidently discuss your career achievements, not your job duties, with potential employers.”

Here are six tips from “Job Won!” to get the edge at a job fair:

  1. Dress as you would for a real job interview. Bring numerous copies of your resume. If you do well, you’ll hand out a lot of them. Write up a general cover letter to attach to your resume, a summary that clearly defines your career objectives and qualifications in relation to the relevant industry or focus of the job fair.
  2. Strong, succinct cover letters make a positive impression. Few job fair attendees take the time and effort to write and distribute these letters, so doing so will help set you apart from the masses. It shows you put more effort into preparing for the fair than hundreds of others attending. Already, you stand apart.
  3. Keep your materials neat, organized and presentable in a handheld portfolio that allows you to easily shake hands with potential employers and take notes.
  4. Don’t forget to bring along an abundance of your business cards. Notepad, pen and your calendar are also essential, the last in case a prospective employer wants to arrange a meeting or an interview on the spot.
  5. Do some research ahead of time when you know which companies will be represented at a job fair. Check out corporate websites, keying in on any job openings of interest that are posted. Read current, relevant news. Doing so will make conversation easier and more effective with company representatives. Asking intelligent, informed questions about such topics as the company’s recent accomplishments or future plans sets you apart from the other unprepared looky-loos (also known as tire kickers).
  6. View your job fair interactions as seriously as you would a job interview. On-site job fair interviews are, in fact, becoming much more common. It makes sense. The candidate and the recruiter are both there, so why not have an introductory interview? It saves everybody time and money. Don’t be surprised if a seemingly casual conversation evolves into something more serious and you are asked to sit down for a formal interview. Always appear flexible, but never desperate.

“Following up with recruiters and new contacts at a job fair is more than just an afterthought,” adds Blair. “How and when you follow up leaves as much of a lasting impression on potential employers as your on-site interview or conversation does. Maybe more so since it underscores your seriousness, determination and professionalism. Make it clear you are fighting to get this job.”

One last piece of advice from Blair: don’t hesitate to talk to your fellow job seekers.  “They may know of a position that they are not right for but you just might be.  Likewise be ready to pay it forward and share any information you might have with other job seekers.  They can be your allies, not your competitors.”