Writing a cover letter that accompanies your resume for a specific position usually states your interest in the job as well as a statement or two that shows you've studied the organization and respect its work or reputation. However, a career fair cover letter is akin to a letter of introduction that contains specific information about you and your career but doesn't include company-specific information.
1. Construct an introductory paragraph that succinctly describes your expertise level, an accomplishment or two, your personality and the types of career opportunities or organizations for which you believe you're best suited. For example, write "I'm an enthusiastic recent graduate of microbiology from the University of Arizona looking for an entry-level career role in research and development. I have significant work expertise through internships with two major research laboratories and am excited about joining an organization that rewards forward-thinking researchers with opportunities for professional development and on-the-job learning. I'm available for relocation anywhere in the United States."
2. Write one or two sentences about your attendance at the career fair. Include the precise name of the fair, its date and location. The reason you want to mention this is because many employers track applicants and how they learn about vacancies with their companies. When you identify that you're a career fair attendee, it's easy for the company to track interest in the organization. In addition, you might receive recognition as a career fair attendee that you might otherwise not have received simply because of the effort to make an in-person appearance instead of simply sitting at home dispatching cover letters and resumes via email.
3. Write one to two paragraphs about your functional expertise and specific accomplishments. If you've worked for organizations with excellent reputations in your industry or field, feel free to include their names. Prospective employers may look twice at applicants who have worked for companies that are known to have strict criteria and a reputation for hiring only the best professionals.
4. Describe your functional expertise, clinical experience or job skills in specific terms, using concrete examples about your work history. If you are a recent graduate, use your internships and college projects to describe your expertise. If you're a mid-career professional, briefly describe how your job skills and expertise have progressed through the years. For example, an accountant who started in an entry-level position and received promotions to become department leader might describe his work history as, "In the 11 years since I joined my current employer's accounting department as an accounts payable clerk, I completed my undergraduate degree while working full-time. Within two years, I was promoted to junior accountant and given increasingly responsible assignments over the next seven years. Two years ago, I successfully passed the CPA exam and am now the department manager."
5. Conclude your cover letter with information about your career interests. Research the career fair to determine if a particular industry will be represented. For example, some of the Big Four accounting firms recruit during college campus career fairs. Other career fairs might focus on federal government employers or industry-specific areas such as food and beverage, hospitality or engineering. If you're attending a targeted career fair, state your interest in the industry and ask for favorable consideration of your qualifications.
- Create your own application packages for the career fair. Make several copies of your cover letter, resume, list of references, writing samples and portfolio examples to hand to prospective employer representatives.
- Dress for the career fair as you would for an interview. Many companies send their recruiters and hiring managers to conduct on-the-spot interviews. Use your appearance and application materials to convey a message to recruiters and hiring managers that you're prepared to accept a position.
About the Author
Ruth Mayhew began writing in 1985. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry" and "Human Resources Managers Appraisal Schemes." Mayhew earned senior professional human resources certification from the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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Whether you're a recent graduate seeking your first position or an experienced professional in search of a new opportunity, attending job fairs is one way to network and find job leads. Job fairs allow you to meet hiring managers from various companies and industries -- all housed under one roof for the day. These tips will help you make the best impression.
Research Job Fair Companies
"When meeting candidates at job fairs, I like to see that they've done their research," says Louis Dennis, a human resources representative for State Farm Insurance Companies in Greeley, Colorado, who regularly recruits employees by attending job fairs. "Folks who can sit down with me already knowing something about the company and the types of jobs they're interested in are very impressive to me."
It's usually possible to obtain a list of employers participating in a job fair ahead of time. The best-prepared candidates will have already spent time researching corporate cultures and searching job listings on Monster and other sites. "If someone can say to me, ‘I'm interested in underwriting or claims' and can back up why they're a good fit, I'm immediately going to be impressed," Dennis says.
Develop Multiple Versions of Your Resume
After you've done your homework, tailor your resume based on your job objective, and consider bringing multiple versions to the career fair, says Christina MacGill, associate director of career programming for career services at Pennsylvania State University.
"Once candidates have done their research on participating companies, they can create a few different resumes targeting these," MacGill advises. "For example, someone interested in finance can research typical job titles and types of responsibilities and then create several different versions accordingly. They also might create one resume targeted to working for banks and another one tailored to working for the finance division of a large firm like GE."
You should also prepare a general resume without a specific objective. "That way, candidates can be prepared for any situation at a job fair by keeping their options open and having multiple resume versions ready to go," MacGill says.
Cut Through the Clutter
Having a concise resume to hand out at job fairs is crucial. "When I'm at a job fair, where the line can get eight-to-10 deep of people waiting to talk to you, I cringe when I see a resume that's more than a page and a half long," Dennis says.
"If the resume is cluttered and not easy to read, this is a problem," says MacGill, who coordinates career fairs at Penn State. "Employers get so many resumes at career fairs, and you've got to make sure your resume is easy on the eye, with the main information easy to pick up and quickly scan."
Bring Supporting Documents
Additional documents that could help support your qualifications will depend on your industry and career goals, but they may include a cover letter, professional portfolio, transcripts (usually for new graduates), reference list, letters of recommendation and job applications.
Use the information uncovered during your research to guide your cover letter development. You may have found names of HR managers, position openings and job requirements that will help you customize your letters. If you don't have this information, write a cover letter to go along with each resume version. The letter should provide an overview of your qualifications that meet the goal the resume specifies.
At the same time, supporting documents aren't as important as your resume, and some hiring managers won't be interested in dealing with the extra paperwork. Dennis says cover letters aren't necessary at a job fair.
Request a business card from each hiring manager, and jot down a few notes immediately after each conversation -- this will help refresh your memory when you follow up. Email or mail a thank-you note within 24 hours of the job fair.
"When I've met someone promising, I'm looking for them to follow up," says Dennis. "If they do, that's a sign of serious interest."
"We also recommend that after you meet with someone and learn more about specific positions, alter the resume and send an updated, customized version to the person you spoke with right away," MacGill says.
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