2024-01-09T09:19:06-05:00Sep 6, 2023|

How to leverage job fairs to land your first job in Canada

As a newcomer, landing your first job in Canada is a huge accomplishment, but getting there is no easy task. The process—from searching for employment opportunities to preparing for interviews—can be daunting and time-consuming. Job fairs can be an opportunity to consolidate your search efforts and shorten the time it usually takes to make a connection with potential employers, submit your resume, and have your first interview.

 In this article, we cover the benefits of a job fair, how to prepare for one, as well as how to expertly leverage job fairs to land your first job in Canada and lay the foundation for your career.

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What is a job fair? 

A job fair is an event where multiple employers and recruiters come together, in-person or virtually, to meet candidates to interview and hire for open positions. Job fairs are commonly held in cities across Canada, and may also sometimes be referred to as career fairs, job expos, or hiring fairs. 

At in-person job fairs, each employer has a booth or display set up to meet numerous candidates (sometimes hundreds) over a short period of time, from a couple of hours to a couple of days. A career fair may be dedicated to a certain career level, skilled trade, or industry, such as engineering or hospitality and tourism.

Advantages of job fairs for newcomers to Canada

As a newcomer to Canada, the prospect of entering a room full of employers ready to interview candidates may fill you with a mix of optimism and dread. Certainly, career fairs can seem overwhelming when you’re just starting your job search in Canada. But avoiding them completely may cost you opportunities to build your career.

Some newcomers mistakenly believe that job fairs are only worthwhile for entry-level jobs, but that’s not necessarily true. Even mid-career professionals can benefit from industry-specific job fairs. Moreover, there are several other advantages to attending job fairs in Canada, such as: 

Meet multiple employers that are actively hiring

Job fairs offer a rare opportunity to meet several employers in one place—all of whom are intent on hiring immediately or in the near future. You can learn about open positions in different companies, and get insights on their work cultures, compensation, and values through one-on-one chats with recruiters, all in one day.

Learn more about your industry

As a recent newcomer to Canada, you may not be familiar with how your industry operates in Canada. A career expo is a perfect opportunity to learn more about your industry, such as potential career paths, the latest trends, innovations, typical hiring practices, most desired qualifications, opportunities for upskilling, and more. Armed with this knowledge, you can better prepare for your job search and customize your resume to land a job.

Network with recruiters and professionals

Newcomers are often at a disadvantage in the Canadian job market due to their lack of professional connections. Your network can open doors for you when it comes to finding and landing a job. 

While there are several ways to build your network online, meeting face-to-face is often the most effective way to make a good first impression and a lasting connection. At a job fair—even if it’s virtual—you have the opportunity to meet multiple recruiters and professionals in your desired field of work within a short time frame, making it much easier to reach out via LinkedIn later to stay in touch.

On-the-spot interviews

When you’re looking for your first job as a newcomer, time is of the essence. Having to wait weeks, even months, for an interview call after applying to tens or hundreds of jobs can be frustrating. At a job fair, on-the-spot interviews are not uncommon to fill urgent positions, enabling you to get much closer to a job offer in a lot less time. 

In most cases, recruiters are trying to get through multiple candidates in a day, so on-the-spot interviews are just the screening round and tend to be shorter. Often, these job interviews can feel less stressful because recruiters may be just as eager to impress you, as you are to impress them in a relatively informal environment.

Skip the ATS screening

Many Canadian employers use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to scan resumes and filter out those that don’t fit a specific set of criteria. In fact, one of the common challenges newcomers face during their job search is crafting a perfect Canadian-style resume.

However, when you’re meeting a hiring manager at a job fair, you can make a good first impression without your resume undergoing the usual scrutiny of ATS software filters that are common in the Canadian job market.

Simplify your interview prep

Preparing for an interview typically requires a lot of time to research and practice your responses to improve your chances of landing the job. A job fair eliminates some of the repetition involved in interview prep work. Whether you have one or five on-the-spot interviews, the level of preparation required isn’t significantly different. You can create a common elevator pitch, one set of questions for the interviewers, and a resume. 

Of course, to really stand out, you can always customize your resume (or send in a customized version later) and elevator pitch at the last minute with company-specific information. Don’t forget the time and effort you save on travel and getting dressed up for one event, rather than having to do so for individual interviews at multiple times and locations.

10 tips to stand out at a job fair and position yourself as a strong candidate

There can be anywhere from dozens to thousands of attendees at a career fair. What can you do to set yourself apart from other candidates and impress employers? Making a good first impression is key at an event like this, as you may have only a few minutes to talk to each employer before another candidate takes your place. Here, we provide some guidance on how to portray yourself as a strong candidate at a job fair—both in-person and virtual. 

1. Research companies

Many job fair organizers share a list of participating companies with registered attendees. Even if they don’t proactively do so, don’t hesitate to contact the organizer to learn about the employers who’re likely to attend.

Take the time to investigate the companies that will be at the career expo, creating a shortlist of those you definitely want to meet, followed by companies that would be nice to meet, and lastly, those that you’ll visit if you have time. This way, you won’t run out of time before meeting with the employers you are most interested in. If you have time left over, you can navigate to employers further down in your priority list.

For companies at the top of your priority list, make sure you do your research about what the organization does, its values, and (if possible) open roles in the company. This will help you customize your elevator pitch and ask intelligent questions.

2. Prepare your introduction

Meeting multiple potential employers in a day can be overwhelming. However nervous you feel, you don’t want to suddenly be tongue-tied and unsure of what to say when meeting an employer. 

Before the job fair, develop a 30-second to one-minute elevator pitch that includes all the details you want a prospective employer to know. Your elevator pitch is a brief introduction of your qualifications, skills, achievements, and why they make you a good fit for the job. Remember to prepare answers for commonly asked interview questions, such as ‘Tell me about yourself,’ or ‘Why do you want to work here?’

Keep in mind, job fairs also are set up to encourage applicants to learn about the companies. So, consider the questions you want to ask your target employers to help you decide which company may be the best fit for you.

3. Quality over quantity

When you’re actively in job search mode or when you haven’t had much success even after several weeks of applying for jobs, it can become harder to focus on employers you want to work with. However, spreading yourself too thin isn’t necessarily going to improve the outcome of your job search.

Avoid the urge to fit as many interviews into your day as possible. Instead, spend quality time speaking with employers you’re interested in working for (your shortlist.) Remember, the objective is not just to meet recruiters, but to leave a memorable impression. Even if you don’t get an interview that day, the information you gain and the relationships you cultivate will be valuable if you decide to apply for a job at the company later.

As you finish each conversation, take a few minutes to jot down what you’ve learned (about company culture, the role, the name of the person you spoke to etc.) so that you can refer back to this information at a later stage and avoid mixing up multiple conversations.

4. Bring copies of your resume

Bring copies of your resume with you and store them in an envelope or folder that’s easily accessible in your bag and protects them from creases. It’s best to customize your resume for the companies you’ve shortlisted to make a strong first impression. If you’re interested in more than one type of job, create a resume for each one and bring extra copies. Just make sure you hand the right one to each potential employer you meet (use sticky notes or post-its to tell them apart!). Also, leave a copy of your resume for recruiters or employers who’re busy and unable to talk to you.

As a newcomer, ensure that your resume is in a format that Canadian recruiters and hiring managers are familiar with. Typically, there are three commonly used Canadian resume formats, and you should pick the one that works best for your professional situation.

5. Be professional

Be aware of your body language when you meet employers. It’s important to show confidence, but also be respectful. Shake hands, make eye contact, smile, and genuinely listen when being spoken to. Avoid slumping your shoulders or looking down at your feet as this can be construed as a lack of interest and low self-confidence. 

Don’t be in a rush to move to the next booth when someone’s speaking to you, as it may come across as disinterest or even rudeness. As you would in any other type of interview, turn off notifications on your phone or switch it off, so you don’t get distracted while talking to a recruiter.

6. Dress appropriately 

How you present yourself matters, and for a job fair, dressing professionally is always your best bet. However, how you dress can also indicate your understanding of the industry so keep the work culture in mind. For example, video game designers are likely going to dress more casually than finance professionals. 

Make sure your shoes are comfortable, as you’ll likely be on your feet for the whole day. It doesn’t hurt to carry a spare outfit in your bag, just in case you spill something on yourself or get sweaty.

7. Ask for next steps

Be sure to ask every employer you speak with at the job fair about how and when you should follow up. Business cards are usually available at every booth, but if not, make a note on your phone of who you spoke to in each company and their contact details. Not every employer will have suitable job openings, but as a newcomer, building connections in Canada is essential to open doors for future employment opportunities.

8. Be tech ready for virtual job fairs

As a newcomer, attending virtual job fairs before you land in Canada can give you a headstart in your job search. When attending a virtual job fair, test your technology beforehand and turn off or snooze all electronic distractions, such as app notifications, text messages, and phone calls. 

When entering online chats or meetings, have your mic on mute, unless you’re asking or answering questions. Keep your video on, so employers know who they’re speaking to and can recognize you when it’s time for further interviews.

9. Prepare your virtual background

Consider your environment in advance of a virtual job fair so you know what shows up in your background. Be aware of what the employer may see or hear, such as your dog barking or family members walking by. The ideal setting is distraction-free for both you and the employer. If you live with children or other family members, let them know you’re not to be disturbed for the duration of the job fair. Use headphones if you’re concerned about background noise.

10. Use clear, professional language

Job fairs can feel more informal than a traditional interview setting, but that doesn’t mean you’re not being evaluated. If you’re not confident about your English (or French) language skills, spend the weeks before the job fair practising your conversation skills.

Avoid interrupting employers when they are speaking, and if in doubt, rephrase their questions to make sure you understand. Even when you’re not at a booth or talking to a recruiter, act professionally. Make sure your language is professional at all times, and if you’re in a virtual fair, refrain from using emojis or slang. You never know when someone important may be observing you.

What should you bring to a job fair in Canada?

If you’re attending your first job fair in Canada, you may wonder what to bring with you to make the most of the event. Here are some common items candidates should take along to ensure they have a successful experience:

  • Your resume: Be sure to bring several copies of your resume. Consider customizing your resume to the employers you are targeting and the jobs you wish to apply for.
  • Business cards: If you have business cards, bring them! They can be a simple way to pass along your contact details to employers you speak with. The card should include your name, degree or diploma, phone number, email, and URL for your LinkedIn profile.
  • Your portfolio: Some industries, such as engineering, advertising, and journalism want to see concrete examples of your work to assess your candidacy. Consider bringing a portfolio—print or digital—that includes samples of your best work.
  • Academic credentials: In most cases, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to provide your transcript at a job fair, however, it can’t hurt to carry a copy of your Educational Credential Assessment (ECA) report to prove that your credentials are valid and equivalent to Canadian ones.
  • A list of your references: While most employers do not request references until after the interview process, you may be able to set yourself apart from the competition by providing references immediately. This can also help speed up the hiring process.
  • Notes from your research: While preparing for the job fair, jot down a few key notes about each employer you plan to approach. Bring them with you for quick reference before speaking to each employer to help make a positive first impression and boost your confidence.
  • A notepad or phone: If you’re talking to several employers in a short time span, you may struggle to remember what you learn. Have a notepad—either paper or digital—to make notes regarding each employer, contact information, application requirements, and follow-up actions. Don’t rely solely on your memory!
  • Updated LinkedIn profile: Make sure the LinkedIn app is installed on your phone and your LinkedIn profile is current so you feel confident sharing your profile with potential employers and can ask to connect with recruiters on LinkedIn on the spot. To make connecting with people you meet quick and seamless, learn how to pull up your Linkedin QR code within the app: open the app, tap the search bar and then tap the QR code icon on the right!
  • Freshen up supplies: A full day at a career fair can be exhausting, so consider packing a few toiletries to freshen up during breaks. An extra top may also come in handy if you accidentally spill coffee on your crisp white shirt or just need a fresh change to boost your energy.
  • Water: Bring a refillable water bottle to stay refreshed as you navigate the career fair. Talking non-stop can take a toll on your vocal cords and cause a dip in your energy. A small snack may help, as well. Remember, you want to be as upbeat with the last employer you speak with, as you are with the first one. 

How to approach employers at a job fair in Canada

It’s normal to feel nervous about approaching potential employers to promote yourself for a job, especially if this is the first job fair you’re attending in Canada. But remember that the employers at a job fair are there to meet candidates, just like you’re there to meet employers. They want to learn about you, your top qualities, and why you want to work at their company. 

That said, preparing for a job fair can help calm your nerves and increase your self-confidence for the event. Here are some tips on how to best approach employers at a job fair: 

Introduce yourself

Practicing your introduction helps ensure you speak professionally with every employer you meet and share the most relevant details about yourself. Your elevator pitch should ideally be 30 to 60 seconds long and should include your name, your key skills and achievements, the type of work you’re interested in, and why you’d make a great candidate.

Ask about the positions they’re hiring for

If you’ve done your research beforehand, you should know if the employers you plan to visit have relevant positions open. However, if you can’t find this information on their website or at the job fair booth, ask what positions are currently open. If they don’t have relevant positions available, it’s okay to ask if they may have opportunities in your field later in the year.

Professionally answer common interview questions

One of the major benefits of attending a job fair is the potential to complete the screening interview on the spot (and avoid the ATS). That means you should prepare responses in advance to potential interview questions, such as ‘Tell me a bit about yourself,’ ‘Why do you want to work here?’ and ‘What are your career goals?’

Ask insightful questions

Just as you would prepare to ask questions at the end of an interview, you can impress an employer at a job fair by asking questions that indicate your interest in the company and job. Before attending the job fair, research each company’s mission, values, and products offered, as well as industry trends to come up with a few insightful questions to ask each employer you plan to visit.

Leave a copy of your resume

After introducing yourself and determining that the employer is hiring for a job that interests you, ask if you can leave your resume. Even if you don’t get to speak with every employer on your shortlist, leaving a copy of your resume is still a good idea. After your chat with the employer, be sure to ask how you can follow up with them (and remember to write it down). 

Connect on LinkedIn

For every recruiter you speak to, make sure you ask for the person’s name and contact information, and whether you can connect with them on LinkedIn. If they agree, send them a customized LinkedIn request right away, while you’re still fresh on their mind.

Ask the recruiter for a business card or if you can connect with them on LinkedIn even if they don’t have open roles in your field currently. Adding a few recruiters to your network is always a good idea for your long-term career success.

How to follow up with employers after a job fair

The key to getting the most benefit from your efforts at a job fair is to follow up with employers you meet—and even those you never had a chance to speak with. Following up with employers you talked to (and maybe even interviewed with) shows that you’re interested in the company, and are courteous and professional. The added advantage for newcomers is that it also helps to build your network in Canada.

You may not have had the opportunity to personally speak with all the employers you wanted to. That doesn’t mean you’ve lost your chance to connect with them. In fact, most employers will appreciate a note from job fair attendees expressing an interest in their company and your regret that you couldn’t speak with them in person. Here are some tips on how to follow up with employers after a job fair:

Obtain contact information from employers 

It’s hard to follow up if you walk away from an employer booth without any contact information. Be sure to ask for a business card or request an email address to follow up. This is particularly important for those you interview with but is also good practice for every recruiter or employer you meet or visit at a job fair. 

Ask about next steps 

It’s best to not assume that every employer you meet wants you to follow up via email or a phone call. There’s nothing wrong with specifically asking what the best way to connect is, and even when to follow up—especially if you’ve had an interview or discussed a particular role for which you’d be an ideal fit. You may be asked to reach out to a person not present at the job fair (such as an HR associate). Make a note of this information for each employer to refer to later.

Send a thank you email

Always send a thank you email within 24 hours of your meeting with a potential employer. Many employers expect this after an interview, and those who take this extra step after a job fair will set themselves apart from other attendees. Your thank you email and follow up note don’t necessarily have to be separate emails, so use your best judgment based on the conversation you had (or didn’t have) with the employer.

Reiterate your interest in the role 

In your follow up note reiterate that you’re interested in working for the company. Mention a particular role if it was discussed at the job fair, and include one to two key takeaways from your interview or discussion, such as your qualifications for the role, the company’s values, or company culture. Be sure to address how these takeaways relate to your desire to work there and how you’re an ideal fit for the company.

Attach a copy of your resume and cover letter

Employers often meet hundreds of candidates over the course of a career fair. It can be hard to remember each person, and your resume can get overlooked if it’s among a stack of other similar ones. Make it easier for the employer to review your qualifications by attaching your resume and cover letter with your follow up email. This also gives you an opportunity to customize them based on the information you learned at the job fair.

As a newcomer to Canada, finding a suitable job in your field is a priority, and there’s merit in exploring all the job search avenues available to you, including job fairs. Job fairs give you an opportunity to meet with many different employers over the span of a few hours, appear for on-the-spot interviews, and learn more about your industry. Be sure to do your research before attending a job fair, so you can make the most of your interactions with potential employers in Canada.