Onward Healthcare's marketing director offers up advice to travel nurses on how to effectively navigate a career fair or exhibit hall at a national conference. Learn how to maximize your time spent, efficiently maneuver, and leave a lasting impression with those that you meet.
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Welcome to the latest episode of Travel Nursing Insider. Today we’re going to be giving nurses some tips on how to effectively work a job fair or exhibit hall at a nursing conference. With me I have Onward Healthcare’s marketing director Steve Dobrowski. Steve has attended numerous tradeshows for Onward Healthcare over the years and is here to help nursing jobseekers on how to go about networking at one of these shows.
Peter: Steve, welcome back to Travel Nursing Insider.
Steve: Thanks Peter. Glad to be here.
Peter: What’s the first thing a nurse should be thinking about when attending one of these shows?
Steve: Actually Peter, really what a nurse needs to do, the preparation actually starts probably the day before or the night before of really kind of getting yourself prepared to go to one of these shows. That starts with kind of figuring out what your goals are for the show and who’s going to be there.
So ahead of time all these organizations or whatever the job board entity might be, they’ll usually print a list of all the hospitals, agencies and anybody else who’s going to be in attendance there. So you certainly want to find that list, scope through it, identify the contacts that you want to speak with when you attend the show, so you’ll have a little bit of an idea of who’s going to be there and who your target audience is and who you want to target for these opportunities.
Next you definitely want to print your résumé, some copies of that as leave behinds but obviously even more than that, make sure that you have a nice well formatted résumé and even consider the possibility of possibly making a small portfolio for yourself. If there are certain companies there or a certain hospital who you’re really hoping to talk to and get your foot in the door with, possibly write a cover letter to drop off to that booth. That will definitely set you out from the crowd rather than just being your résumé in a stack of many others.
If you write a cover letter, have your nice formatted résumé with that, some possible references, that will go a long way in making the recruiter that’s working the booth remember you and put you on that top of the pile when they go back to their department the next day.
Peter: In addition to that list is, is there anything else nurses should be thinking about the night before going to one of these events?
Steve: Part of the other thing is while you’re not on an interview, so to speak, you should still look the part. Depending on what kind of job fair/conference it is, you want to dress appropriately for it. Don’t show up in your shorts and flip-flops. You want to make sure if it’s a nursing conference where you might be attending some CEU sessions in between or maybe some other nursing workshops and you’re told to wear scrubs, wear scrubs – look the part of a nurse obviously. But if it’s just a strict job fair being run by a magazine association or of a national nursing association, then probably wear nice business attire so that you stand out and look like you’re really someone interested in such a position.
One of the other thing you definitely want to do is kind of come up with a little bit of some pre-prep questions to ask and also maybe a little bit of an elevator speech about yourself to talk to the recruiters about. When you actually arrive at the career fair the next day, you’re not kind of blindly walking up to people and just saying, “So what do you do…” Or “hey…” You want to be able to kind of strongly walk up to people and tell them a little bit about yourself. If you think about that and maybe rehearse it a little bit to yourself the night before, it will be an easier transitional to walk up and say hello to that person the next day.
Peter: I’m sure most of these job fairs have websites where you can go on and sort of pre-plan the kinds of things that you want to do and the contacts you want to make there.
Steve: Exactly. Like I was saying, really they’ll tell you tons of information about the show, down to a possible floor map of where everyone is going to be located. In some of these larger shows where you get upwards of 1000-2000 booths, you’re going to want to make sure that you kind of have a little bit of a route in mind. If one of the companies that you’re talking about is all the way left and the other one is all the way right and the conference hall is filled with 6000 other nurses, you want to make sure that you kind of have a game plan so that you’re not walking back and forth and back and forth all day and missing out on a lot of opportunities to talk to people in between.
Peter: So now we’ve done all of our prep, we know who we want to talk to, we have pretty well scoped this whole job fair or exhibit hall out – what do you focus on? Like you said, there can be thousands of people at this thing and can get kind a little bit overwhelming.
Steve: It sure can. That’s why the more prep you do that day before, the more you’re going to be ready to go when you walk in that first day. One of the things you want to do is make sure that you get there at a good time; don’t be running late so that you’re in a tizzy. If you show up hectic, your whole day is going to end up hectic, you’re going to be in a rush, you’re never going to really feel comfortable when you’re going to talk people. If you get there nice and early, take some time to just walk around and get a feel for the environment first, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and relaxed so that when you stop at a booth where you want to talk to someone, it will be a nice easy transition, you’ll be organized, you’ll have all your papers ready to hand them. And then it goes back to like I was saying, you’re kind of elevator pitch – walk in with an aggressive handshake and hello; the same thing that you would do at a regular job interview.
The recruiters who are there are meeting hundreds of candidates who are just passing by and everyone is kind of just yelling, saying hello, some are looking, some are interested and some are not. Make yourself look interested. Make yourself stand out from the crowd. Walk right up to that person and say who you are, where you’re from, what you’re looking for, and then work your way into that transition to talk about here’s your résumé, here’s why you came specifically to talk to them, and like I said, this will definitely set you aside from that pile of candidates that they’re going to come back and sit at their desk and start funneling through. If they come back with 500 note cards with nurse’s names and addresses on them, and then your nice fashioned résumé and cover letter or portfolio, obviously you’re going to be right at the top of that list and you’re going to be the first person that they pass on to their supervisor or co-workers and say “Out of everyone, candidate X really stood out at the event yesterday.”
Obviously there’s that and then certainly, there is the aspect of when you meet these people and you start to make connection with them, let them know that you’re interested and make sure that you take their contact information as well.
When you leave that show, as important it is to make yourself stand out, just in case the rare possibility happens that you do get lost in the shuffle, you want to ask that person for any contact information that they can give you – their business card, anybody else that they could recommend that you should possibly call in and talk to following the show. They might pass you on and say like the quickest way to get started is an online application; take that information and go home, fill that online application out. If there’s a note section, be prepared to say, “I spoke to other recruiter Steve, who was at the booth.” That will let that person know when the application comes in who you are, that you’ve already spoken to some people, that you’re interested, that you’re following up so quickly.
Then finally, talk to other jobseekers while you’re there. Your hope in going to one of these job fairs is that you’re going to find your ideal job at one of these booths and that hopefully there’s a good chance that you will, because the companies who are paying to attend these shows, like Onward Healthcare, we’re usually there because we are hiring and we’re looking for the candidates. But at the rare chance that you don’t find the right match for yourself at the show, talk to other jobseekers who are there, ask them what they’ve been to up to, are they using any other job boards, how are they getting their name out in the industry, how are they building their personal brand, what are they doing to network with hospitals and employers alike… you’ll find some really good ideas while you’re there, like I said, network building as well. So those types of things will definitely help you out.
Peter: Those are some great tips. Steve as we both know, you go to one of these events and normally you come back, you’ve got a whole bag full of tchotchkes and swag from the show, a stack of business cards – how do you sort through this and what are some strategies for really following up and taking advantage of the pre-pro and the work that you’ve done and making all of these contacts?
Steve: That’s a great point, Peter. One of the things you want to be doing while you’re at the show is when you talk to that recruiter at a certain booth or at a certain company, and you had that kind of connection that really clicked, make some notes for yourself, because just as they’re going to go home with a stack of résumé and cards, you’re going to probably come home with a stack of business cards as well. So when you get that recruiter’s card, make a note to yourself, maybe you only get my business card, Steve, but I was at the booth with Lindsey… make notes that Steve was with Lindsey. “I really enjoyed what they had to say. They mentioned a job opportunity in California.”
In that way when you go home, you’ve kind of organized those things. Make notes to your self on any companies that you possibly weren’t interested in. When you get home you push those off to the side and you start tackling the one’s that really provided the best information. So when you follow up with them, more than just saying, “Hey, it was a pleasure meeting you. What are the next the steps;” you’ll be able to kind of reach out on a personal note and say, “Hey, Steve, it was a great talking to you and Lindsey. That job in California really sounded interesting. I just filled out my online application. I can’t wait to hear from you guys. Let me know if there’s anything else I could do.” You’re going to stand out levels above any other candidate by doing that, instead of just kind of you know, there’s one way to just write a form letter, but personalizing it is just going to get you to that next level. Obviously, that’s definitely one of the things you want to do post job show.
Peter: What are some of the job fairs and exhibits that are coming up that Onward Healthcare is participating in, or some of the shows that you really think stand out in the crowd?
Steve: There are handfuls upon handfuls, Peter. There’s probably two to three every month on a nursing level, because obviously with the amount of specialties in the nursing profession, you’re going to be able to kind of search for certain shows that fit your specialty and your geographic location. And then on top of that, you have kind of your really big shows – the North American Nursing Diagnostic Association, the International Conference on Emergency Medicine, American Health Information Management, the National Magnet Conference – all those things are coming up in the next few months.
Then you have, like I said, kind of regional shows that might focus on your specialty, you have national shows that focus on specialty. Then you have specific job fairs that aren’t necessarily nursing conferences, but are run by publications within the nursing industry, whether it be Advance Magazine or Nursing Spectrum – all of those hold statewide nursing job fairs all over the country. We’ve attended already two this month in New Jersey and New York; we have more scheduled in the upcoming months and those are really just great places. There are some smaller, more intimate venues because they’re focused on directly two jobseekers and there maybe only about a hundred vendors compared to thousand plus; so it’s an easier way for you to kind of go in and network on a more intimate basis with the recruiters who are out there looking.
Peter: One last question, are these shows, in general, expensive to attend?
Steve: Great question. For the nurses they’re always free. Obviously these shows are – at least the job fairs are free to the nurses. If the nurses are going to any of these national shows and like I said, they’re attending sessions in between that include keynotes and possibly CEU credits, there’s probably going to be some type of a charge to the nurse as well. Most of the time, those one’s are held in nice locations, so they get a little vacation out of the deal as well. It works out well for them because they’re furthering their education, they’re building their networks, they’re able to work on the job seeking front and have a little vacation in between as well. I think it works out well for all the parties involved.
Peter: I’m sure for those who are on a real budget, there’s usually an exhibit only pass that’s usually free, right?
Steve: Absolutely Peter. That’s a really good point. For those nurses who just want to hit the hall and talk to hospitals, talk to employers, and do the networking that is usually free for the nurses.
Peter: Steve, it’s been great to have an opportunity to speak with you again and I think this is a really informative show. Nurses, go out and hit the road.
Steve: Absolutely. Thanks for being here again, Peter.
Peter: Thank you.
Thank you for tuning in to Travel Nursing Insider. For more information on the exciting world of travel nursing, you should visit Onward Healthcare on the web at onwardhealthcare.com or call 1-800-278-0332 to speak to a travel nursing recruiter.
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