“I went to a career fair and all I got was to be told to apply online.”

“I went to a career fair and all I got was to be told to apply online.”

This is what I hear almost weekly from frustrated job candidates across the country. Truth is that being asked to apply online is a good thing. Unfortunately, many candidates do not know why.

Companies larger in size are required to have their recruiters gather applications electronically for several reasons. First to obtain HR information as required by law; and second so they can direct desirable job seekers to different departments.

You may be asking yourself, “If that is the case why not just go apply online and skip the career fair?” The answer is simple. Going to a career fair allows you to meet the recruiters and learn the key items they are looking for, thus allowing you to tailor your online application to their specific needs.

When you begin going from one employer to another at the event, have your resume and a notepad ready. Hand the resume to the recruiter while smiling and looking them in the eye. Introduce yourself with your elevator pitch, then let the recruiter talk to you.

During the conversation, be sure to listen to the recruiter’s instructions. It’s easy to be eager and want to do all the talking, but remember that you learn by listening not by talking. Make a few notes about the conversation on your notepad. After being told to apply online, think of this as a test from the recruiter to to see how interested you are in the specific opportunity. A recruiter would not ask you to apply online if they were not interested, so thank them and move to the next booth.

Repeat this cycle for the duration of the event. When you get home, apply for the positions you are interested in and immediately send a thank-you email to your contact at the career fair. In your email, thank the recruiter for taking the time to talk to you and include something you wrote down specific to your conversation. This will remind the recruiter of your conversation, allowing them to remember you out of all the other people they spoke with that day. After they receive your email, they will be watching for your online application to come across their desk.

This is the best way to work a career fair. If you go booth to booth treating it like a flea market, collecting the chip clips and pens, you will go home with a bunch of junk and without a potential job. If you go with an optimistic attitude and prepared to work, you will go home with potential job opportunities.