How to Build a Professional Network, Part I: Career Fairs

I begin the series on how to build a professional network with a focus on career fairs as this is how I started my journey of self-mentoring. Last summer, I attended a small career fair armed with copies of my curriculum vitae (CV) but a different mindset than most attendees. My main objective was to use the career fair as a career exploration exercise to help define my career goals and evaluate the needs of employers in my field.

A senior scientist from a national laboratory took time to speak with me about my career interests. After I explained my desire to seek a position that would take advantage of my technical background and organizational skills, he informed me that I was describing “project management” (and then gave me that weird look that most scientists give me…. as though they are examining a new species under a dissecting scope because why would anyone in their right mind want to enter a career outside the traditional research role?) All joking aside, he sparked my curiosity in the field of project management, which has propelled me on a trajectory to enter this career path. Also, he provided me with contact information for other scientists in the management arena so I could conduct informational interviews with experienced professionals. I left the career fair with a renewed sense of purpose and the realization that I could take control of finding my niche in the science domain.

This week, take some time to locate a career/job fair that you could realistically attend in the next 2-4 months, either in a physical or virtual format. I know colleagues who are hesitant to attend a career fair if they are not in the position to formally accept a new job. However, a career fair is a great environment for discovering the current needs of the job market and building contacts with potential employers.

I will detail preparation steps for a career fair in a future post but here are some resources for locating career fairs:

1. University career centers or postgraduate program offices

Many career fairs are organized through university career centers so check out the events scheduled through your university affiliation. These events are usually open to alumni. If non-university affiliated then contact your postgraduate program office (i.e. postdoc support office) to see if any job fairs are being planned.

2. Local chamber of commerce (or local newspaper group)

Frequently, the local chamber of commerce hosts job fairs with employers from the surrounding community. Check out the chamber of commerce website and sign up for their e-newsletter to stay informed of upcoming events. In my local area, the newspaper company also sponsors several job fairs each year.

3. Professional conferences

Professional conferences normally host job fairs, career development workshops and exhibition booths. If you are planning on attending a conference then be sure to schedule time to take advantage of these resources.

4. National and international career fair listings

This list is not all-inclusive but includes a few websites for companies that host multiple career fairs in various US and international locations.

a. BioSpace

b. Nature Jobs

c. National Career Fairs

d. Tech Expo

5. Virtual career fairs

Online career fairs are the newest trend in the job fair world. The virtual format makes it a more affordable option for both the employer and job seeker. See the related blog post “Prepping for a Virtual Career Fair” for more tips and a list of online job fairs.

(Note: Registration for the career fairs listed above seems to be a free service. However, I do not endorse any of these companies and cannot attest to the validity or cost of their services.)

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