By Joyce Lain Kennedy - Careers Now

What's the difference between career fairs and job fairs? Are they worth the effort?

Fairs account for only a small percentage of hires -- 3 percent to 5 percent, according to most studies -- but, hey, every opportunity counts when you're standing in the rain at midnight looking for a welcoming doorway.

Today I focus on real-space events, setting aside online fairs for another time.

Downsides Of Job Fairs

Some experts see fairs as meat markets staffed by junior employees who lack the power to hire you. Participating fair employers may have open jobs. Others are building a talent pool for future jobs. Still others have no hiring intent but are building brand recognition by showing up. (As you booth-hop, ask: "Are you hiring now or are you scouting for the future?)

Four reasons why fairs don't pay off:

1. Time vampires.

You may better use the heavy time investment needed to score at a fair on other pursuits, such as growing a supportive networking crew.

2. Beehive of competition.

As unemployment rises, you'll compete with swarms of job seekers crowding around fewer participating employers -- less than half of last year's number, according to some reports.

3. Tempus fugit.

Similar to the limitations of speed-dating events, you typically won't have the face time to adequately present your charms. (Which is why your resume better be a knockout.)

4. Post-event funk.

If you fail fair-searching 101, you risk pangs of rejection that send you to bed for three days.

Upsides Of Job Fairs

Other experts tout fairs as marvelous venues for making a high-profile impression through preparedness. But in a format that also allows you to keep moving on quickly unless you're receiving future sit-down interview signals. As recruiters know, it's faster to screen out than in; at fairs, you turn the tables by passing on employers of little interest and focusing on those of serious appeal.

Four reasons to value job fairs:

1. Jackpot result.

You could get a job offer by landing on one or more short lists for future closer scrutiny. (Don't expect an offer on the spot.)

2. Horizon stretcher.

Attending a fair and seeing what's out there identifies employers you never thought about.

3. Wakeup call.

When you're hiding in the house and can't get started on a really good search, preparing for a fair adds a deadline, and even excitement, to the challenge of shaping up your self-marketing tools and appearance.

4. Lucky location.

Serendipity can strike in the middle of a busy event, such as running into an acquaintance who volunteers to take your resume and connect you with a perfect company that's not even at the fair.

Some experts insist there's no difference between events called career fairs and those called job fairs.

Others believe career fairs are designed for students and interns, while "job fairs" are targeted to experienced workers, entry- or professional-level.

By any name, today's fairs are organized in a range of categories. In addition to fairs arranged by location (usually a city or a college campus), examples include: technical, engineering, security clearance, health, retail, aerospace, sales, marketing, management, professions, military/veteran, women and workplace diversity. A single company may stage a fair, or several companies share sponsorship; more often, fairs are marketed by commercial promoters.

When you learn of an interesting fair, contact the fair's promoter to make sure you're a good fit with the event. Also call the place where the fair will be held to verify that it's happening as its online schedule indicates, advises Susan Joyce, mastermind of, a Web site that lists many important fairs.


When you're thinking about trolling fairs for job opportunities, find your footing with adequate online research. In addition to browsing for directories of fairs and the opinions of fairgoers, orient yourself with these two free online resources:

--; click advice

--; search for "career fair tutorial"