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Fortune 500 Job Fair: Beyond "Please Apply Online"

By Laura Labovich

Last month at a local job fair, I had the opportunity to stand behind a line of job seekers waiting patiently to speak with the only Wal-Mart recruiter in the building.

When they finally arrived at the front of the line (after getting up early, dressing in their interview outfits, and trekking to the fair), the recruiter advised them to do the one thing that would make any reasonable job seeker scream at that point - he encouraged them to apply online.

I assure you, as a former recruiter for Disney and America Online, Inc. I hated saying these words almost as much as job seekers today hate hearing them.


The Resume "Black Hole"

So, how can you - an eager, qualified, savvy job seeker - get more benefit out of this opportunity and, hopefully, circumvent the "black hole" known as the corporate Website that Fortune 500 companies appear to be so dependent upon?

The truth is that you shouldn't circumvent the corporate Website.

Go ahead, and submit your resume to their site; no harm, no foul, really. In fact, many Fortune 500 companies frequently (often, daily) source their applicant tracking system, and many applicants do get hired as a result.

Of course, there are ways to improve the odds as well: sprinkling the right keywords for you throughout your resume and using both the acronyms such as "HR" or "PR" along with their full names "Human Resources" and "Public Relations," for example, can help boost the chances your resume will move beyond electronic eyes. (See Job-Hunt's resume keywords article for more tips and details.)

But, the likelihood that you will get a job this way remains very slim as the supply of resumes increases daily, so the key is what you do AFTER you submit your resume to their website.

Just the Beginning

The corporate website is the beginning, not the end, of your application for a job at a Fortune 500 company. Once you submit your resume, you need to attempt to get on the "inside." So, is it even worthwhile to attend a job fair with a Fortune 500 company presence? And, my answer (in most cases) is yes.

Generally, Fortune 500 companies do not send line managers to man the company booth at job fairs. Instead, these booths are staffed with recruiters and coordinators who occasionally accept paper resumes, but often they just point interested candidates to their website.

Breaking Through

It can be a long and boring day for these corporate ambassadors, so starting a conversation that does not require them to share more info about how or why you need to apply online is a good first step.

While it can be hard to uncover the decision-maker responsible for a specific opening, it is less challenging to get a referral to someone in the company if the request is made "in advance of an opening." After all, you are just looking for a contact and not a job, right?

So, here’s a script to try at your next job fair:

"I’m very familiar with your website, and I’ve already applied online because your company is my first as an choice employer. I know that there are currently no openings in the graphic design department (or what ever department is appropriate for you), but I would love to chat with someone in my field who can share what it’s like to work there. Do you know of anyone in that department who might be able to speak with me briefly?"

Then, if you…

  • Secure a name, but no email address?

You have two choices:

  • You can conduct an online search to uncover an email address (via LinkedIn and even Twitter), OR
  • You can call into the headquarters and ask to speak directly to your new contact.

Don’t go into this conversation cold! Have a script, and be sure to do your research on this person in advance to be as prepared as possible.

  • Secure a name and an email address?

Simply search for the person online via Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter to do your "due diligence" before you attempt to contact him/her. This will become so important when you do send that email, as you will want to reference something of interest to him/her (rather than making it all about you).

Bottom Line

When you visit your next Fortune 500 employer at a job fair, remember that "please apply online" is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. Use the script to see if you can uncover a contact who may help you climb out of that corporate Website black hole.

About the author...

Laura Labovich, MLRHR, is a Guild Certified Five O’Clock Club Career Coach, speaker, networking coach, social media enthusiast, and award-winning resume writer with more than 12 years of Human Resources leadership experience. Feel free to connect with Laura via Linkedin and follow her on Twitter @LauraLabovich.

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