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Do homework to stand out at a job fair

Job fair: The words perk up the ears of anyone who is laid off. With so many applicants, how can you make yourself stand out?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Job fair: The words perk up the ears of anyone who is laid off. That means there is a lot of competition. How do you separate yourself from the crowd?

Job fairs can be a great opportunity to sort of skip a step. You're not just sending in a resume and hoping for a call. You're getting brief, yet critical face-to-face time with someone who could later hire you.

This isn't a full-blown interview, but an opportunity to get noticed. The key is making the most of it. Just say you're having a job fair and people – lots and lots of people – show up.

Last month, hundreds of people came when a Raleigh temp agency said they were hiring. Dozens showed up last week for the possibility of becoming an Apex firefighter. And a couple of weeks ago, job seekers lined up for more than an hour before the start time of another area career fair.

Job seeker Jay Nolfo said, "It gets really hard just sitting there waiting for a phone call. I'm on the computer every day looking for jobs, talking to people, networking with people as much as I can."

With so many applicants, how can you make yourself stand out?

"You prepare in your mind for this long line before you ever get there," Becky Sansbury said.

Sansbury is an expert in interviewing skills. She says job seekers should start by researching the companies that will be there and their available jobs.

"You prepare by knowing some things about that company and about that position, and then positioning yourself so that you're not just another person in line. You're the person they want to talk to," she said.

"Don't see this as going to find a job. It may be a job fair, but what you are doing is to find an interview. That will help change your whole mindset."

And work to make an immediate impression.

"As you're preparing your presentation, your resume, what you may say as your opening line, you want to think about that just like a movie preview. You want to whet the appetite of the interviewer and make them want more," Sansbury advised.

Finally, when it's all over, realize that it's not really over.

"You have contact information. Use it. Use it politely. Use it professionally," Sansbury said. "Remember, ultimately you're marketing yourself and you can't sell something that you keep hidden in a closet."

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