Job fairs are great ways for ex-offenders to survey job opportunities, meet employers, network, practice resume and interview skills, learn about salaries and benefits, and possibly get hired on the spot.

The typical job fair is held in a large conference room of a hotel or a public building and lasts a day, often from 9 AM to 4 PM. Many employers have tables or booths that advertise their company or organization and are looking for candidates who meet their hiring requirements.

Job seekers circulate among the various tables and booths as they try to learn more about the organizations, pick up leaflets or brochures, talk with representatives, and leave a resume.

Job fairs sometimes include special job search workshops, such as writing resumes or interviewing for jobs.

Job fairs for ex-offenders are great places to find employment since employers already indicate, by their participation, that they are willing to hire ex-offenders. Follow these eight tips to maximize your job fair experience:
  1. Check to see if you qualify for the job fair.
    Some job fairs are open to the general public and involve many different types of employers. These general job fairs are sometimes sponsored by a single company that is opening a new business and need to recruit hundreds of people.

    Many job fairs specialize in a particular skill or occupational area. Some may focus on high-tech and computer skills, others may address the construction trades. Still others may be organized for government-related jobs.

  2. Be sure to pre-register for the job fair.
    Many job fairs require you to register before the event - not just show up at the door. One of the registration requirements is to submit a resume, which is then entered into a resume database. This database enables employers attending the job fair to review the resumes online both before and after the job fair.

  3. Plan ahead.
    Before attending the job fair, try to get a list of companies that will be attending. Research several of these on the Internet. Discover what they do, who they employ, and what is particularly unique or different about them.

    When you go to the job fair, you'll impress the representatives when you indicate you know something about what they do. Being prepared in this manner also means you will be more at ease in talking with employers.

  4. Bring copies of your resume to the job fair
    Since you will be meeting many employers at the job fair, as you circulate from booth to booth, your calling card is your resume. A good rule of thumb is to bring 25 to 50 copies of your resume to the job fair.

    If the employer is interested in you, they will want to see your resume. Best of all, they will give you instant feedback on your qualifications. In many cases, they will interview you on the spot and may even hire you that day!

  5. Dress appropriately.
    Job fairs are places where first impressions are very important. Be sure to dress as if you were going to a formal job interview - conservative, neat, and clean.

  6. Prepare a 30-second pitch.
    Your 30-second pitch should tell an employer who you are and what skills and experience youhave that should be of interest to the employer. Tell them why they should consider interviewing and hiring you.

  7. Be prepared to interview for the job.
    Since some employers will actually interview candidates and hire them at the job fair, prepare for a job fair in the same way you would prepare for a job interview - bring a positive attitude, be enthusiastic and energetic, anticipate questions, prepare your own questions, and observe all the verbal and nonverbal rules for interview success.

  8. Follow up your contacts within five days.
    Job fairs are all about networking with employers. If you're interested in an employer and you've had a chance to meet a representative and get his/her name and business card, be sure to follow up with a phone call and/or email within five days of your meeting.

    This follow-up communication will remind the employer of your continuing interest and may result in a formal job interview with other company representatives.
If you are currently incarcerated, check with your prison library or education department to see if they have a copy of this excellent video: An Ex-Offender's Guide to Job Fair Success.

SOURCE: Adapted from Ron and Caryl Krannich, Ph.Ds, The Ex-Offender's Job Hunting Guide (Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications). Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.