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Convention connection.

Your next job may be as close as a professional conference. Here's how to work it on the job fair circuit.

GINO CARR LETS OUT A HUMPH AS HE RECOUNTS THE TALE OF a job stint he did in a rotational program for new M.B.A.'s at a division of Honeywell International in Anniston, Alabama, a small town situated between Atlanta and Birmingham. For Carr, coming out of Duke University five years ago, it was a career-transforming opportunity that all started at the job fair at the National Black MBA Association Inc.'s conference.

To come out of a professional conference with a job like Carr did, you'll have to have a game plan. Have a list of five to 10 companies that you want to target and visit them first. "Don't haphazardly walk down the aisles and talk to various companies. Have a list [of companies you want to target], but allocate enough time to speak to companies not on your list," says Carr, 32, who has since been promoted to manager of aftermarket sales and operations for Honeywell in Torrance, California.

Job fairs at professional conferences allow you "to learn more outside of your normal experience" at a job fair, says Lorraine Balun, staff manager responsible for technical recruiting at All-state Insurance Co. in Northbrook, Illinois. Job fairs offer jobs and that's it, but "conferences have different speakers [and events], where you get more exposure to what companies are doing." It's also a good time to learn more about yourself through seminars on such topics as how to network effectively. But before you board the next flight, follow these tips to become knowledgeable about yourself and the companies that pique your interest. Are you ready? It's time to make the convention connection.


A job fair at a professional conference is unlike a traditional job fair. Here are a few of the characteristics of the latter: it's usually a day long; companies are from various fields, such as information technology and healthcare; and they are looking to fill jobs from entry to management level. On the other hand, at a job fair at a professional conference, you'll discover:

* There's more time. There's more time to talk to recruiters at professional conferences with job fairs because the job fair is running the length of the conference--usually three to four days. Before you get there, you have more time to prepare your resume and do research, because conference job fairs are advertised months in advance. Oftentimes, news of a traditional job fair pops up in the newspaper during the week of the event, and unless you have prior knowledge, you have little time to prepare.

* It's opportunity knocking. The networking opportunities at a professional conference are priceless. From peers and prospective companies, you can find out about the culture of the company you would like to work for, as well as its future plans. For example, "if there is an opportunity to share a conversation," then introduce yourself and join in, says Balun, who says you must be confident when networking at conferences. Intermingling with a small group, say two to three people, is fine, as long as you ease your way into the conversation. This is a good time to throw your hat in the ring, if you haven't already done so at the conference's job fair.

* There's more (content) for your money. Typically, a job fair has one goal: to provide candidates with jobs. At professional conferences there are developmental workshops and seminars that will make you a better professional, such as ones on time management and handling stress, in addition to job fairs.

* Companies spend more. Companies spend more money to sponsor events and invest in services, which oftentimes are designed to attract recruits and demonstrate the company's diversity initiatives.

Make sure to seek out other venues at the convention to aid your job search. Aside from the job fair, visit or participate in events to get the scoop on the company and the job opportunities it has.

* Participate in a panel. By doing so, you'll get name and industry recognition and, when the time comes, you're more likely to get the recruiter's attention faster. As representatives of the company, recruiters are likely to sign up for panel discussions as well, so it's another chance for you to converse with them.

* Go to opening- and closing-night ceremonies. It's probably where participants are the most excited and relaxed. Take the time to introduce yourself if you haven't already and ask questions about what the company is looking for in potential candidates.


When researching a prospective firm, you must have a clear understanding of the company and its goals. To do this, tap into Internet sites such as to find out a company's background. Take Cigna Corp., for example, which according to the site had revenues of $21.4 million in 1998, with a one-year growth rate of 7%. The site also lists the company's major businesses as insurance and financial services. Also, Cigna has openings in its legal, healthcare and financial services departments. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can pick up company brochures at the conference. However, if it's a company you've targeted, you should do your homework well in advance of the conference. The more you know about it and its products and services, the better you'll be able to offer your skills.

Make sure to talk to people who are familiar with the company or who work there, says Angelia Allison, 38, associate director of strategic sourcing in the Worldwide Medicines Group of Bristol-Myers Squibb, in Princeton, New Jersey. That's exactly what she did just four months ago when she decided to make the switch from the oil and gas industry to the pharmaceutical field after attending a professional conference.

How, you ask? After she attended the conference, Allison talked to a friend who had worked for the company. "We talked about mobility within the company, how people were treated, whether there were a lot of minorities and how she liked the company." Allison had the good fortune of having an insider to turn to, but for job hunters who don't, she advises that you turn to the company's Website or log on to a search engine. "It's best to know something about the company [before you go to the conference], because at least you'll know what they're working on, to explain your skills set better ... to coincide with what their needs are," days Allison. Balun advises that one way to find out insider information is "to contact the recruiter [before the conference] to find out the culture. However, you must explain that you're a true job seeker, not a headhunter, and it's best to go through the HR department as a courtesy."

Researching the company's position is one thing. Researching your own is quite another. Do a self assessment. Read books like The Mid-Career Tune-Up: 10 New Habits for Keeping Your Edge in Today's Fast-Paced Workplace by William Salmon and Rosemary Salmon (AMACOM Books, $17.95), which is chock-full of practical tips on self-assessment, such as effectively communicating to others and balancing time and resources. Try your hand at the exercises throughout the book to figure out where your strengths and weakness lie as an employee, such as the section "Balance Multiple Demands on Your Time and Resources," which discusses time wasters and solutions to rectify them. The tips are designed for those on the job, but can certainly transfer over to those on the job hunt.

"I had a 30-second to one-minute spiel about myself to say this is who I am and this is what I'm interested in," says Carr, who entered Honeywell through a rotational program for new M.B.A.'s that typically lasts from two to four years.

Many Fortune 500 companies offer programs that allow candidates "to rotate in different functional areas throughout the company," says Carr, who identifies sales opportunities for the company on environmental control equipment. One such device regulates the air you breathe when you step on to a plane. "Whether they're a targeted company or not, make sure you have that short story ready, and know what skills and attributes you want to target," he says.

AlliSon sums up how she got her recent job: "When I went [to the conference last year], my plan was to find a job. So I kept my focus, did a lot of homework before I went, made contacts ahead of time and had several interviews set up before I got there." Some professional conferences have a prescreening process where candidates can have their resumes sent to the companies they're interested in. In turn, companies that are interested will contact recruits and set up interviews. Contact your association to see if this option is available.


Many of our experts agree that first impressions are lasting impressions. "You must come prepared for the interview. You must be punctual and be able to articulate," says Leonard Small, chairman, National Organization for the Professional Development of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers ( in Cincinnati. "If you have or are perceived to have a lackadaisical attitude about your career, remember they're interviewing other candidates, and many times it comes down to the small differences." If you expect to move beyond the conference booth, remain cognizant of the expectations of the recruiter. Here's a peek at what recruiters are looking for in recruits:

* Style of dress. "Some recruiters may be [dressed] business casual, for example, but that doesn't mean you should be," says Carr. Specifically, this refers to the job fair. However, when not at a job fair or another event that requires a suit, for example, it's better to be conservative in khakis than to be too casual in jeans.

* How you sell yourself. Competition is fierce, so recruiters are looking for individuals "that can state their skills without defining them too narrowly," says Small. For example, "if you're more than an engineer, say a material engineer with a concentration in polymers," then say so. You've got to be very zealous, Small advises, and one way to do so is to expand on your skills through your resume

"The golden ticket is always a well-prepared resume It should be two pages, max, and it needs to be done in a format that's simple," says Balun. "Make sure it's scannable. Don't use special fonts because they may [reproduce poorly]; limit the amount of [boldface type] and [don't make your resume too wordy.]" Highlight areas that directly reflect your contributions in various positions you're applying for at the conference. For example, point out management or leadership roles. Also, if you've worked on projects, make sure the recruiter can find the information quickly; they will show that you're a team player.

* Show your interest. Ask questions about the company and don't regurgitate a company brochure. From a recruiter's point of view, Carr says, "the true gauge [of your interest] is actually talking to people who work with the company. Ask the recruiter, `What is it that [your company] is looking for?'" That way, you know if what you offer fits with the company's goals.

In short, "Everything you do up until the point where you're offered a job goes into their database," says Portia Kibble Smith, an executive development recruiting manager at Sprint in Overland Park Kansas. "So you want to make sure every interaction that you have with a potential employer is a positive one."


There is a way to say thank you. Send a note. Identify who you are and the function where you met the recruiter, and say thanks for the advice, talk, interview or even time. It's a gesture of courtesy to the recruiter, and it gives you more points over the competition. (See "Perfect Your Follow-Through," Powerplay, this issue.)

Now that you know what to do to get a job at a professional conference, put the info to use and work it on the job-fair circuit. Happy hunting!

Strictly Confidential

Unsure about how to keep your job search on the down-low? Follow these tips to secure a new job without jeopardizing the old one in the interim:

1 Tell the recruiter that your conversation is in confidence.

2 Don't job hunt openly at a conference where your employer is or where you are a recruiter. If your employer is there, or you're representing the firm, set up an appointment.

3 Let your boss know that you are job seeking, but only if the company environment allows for it. If your job would be in jeopardy once you revealed your search, keep it to yourself (see "Bring Your Secret Search to Light," Powerplay, February 2000).

4 Don't use company equipment (i.e., computers, printers or fax machines) to conduct your search. Big brother may be watching!

5 Don't tell co-workers and friends that you are job hunting. It's a small world, and you never know who knows


National Directory of African American Organizations
(Philip Morris Cos. Inc.)

For a free copy, send a postcard to: National Directory
of African American Organizations, P.O. Box 407, Whitehouse,
NJ 08888.

Power Interviews: Job-Winning Tactics From Fortune
500 Recruiters by Nell M. Yeager and Lee Hough (John
Wiley & Sons Inc., $14.95)

60 Seconds and You're Hired! by Robin Ryan (Penguin
USA, $10.95)


Order the BLACK ENTERPRISE 2000 Calendar of Events for
a complete listing of this year's professional conferences.
To get a copy, send a self-addressed 9 by 12-inch envelope
to: BE, Circulation Dept., 130 Fifth Ave., 10th Floor,
New York, NY 10011: 212-886-9568.


Career Dimensions
6330 LBJ Freeway, Suite 130
Dallas, TX 75240-6412

Right Management Consultants
1818 Market St., 33rd Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19103-3614


Also, check out the "Convention Calendar" in the Powerplay
section of BE for monthly convention dates.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:making the best use of job fairs
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Previous Article:The Most Home For Your Money.
Next Article:2000 CEO Diversity Roundtable.

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