It is no secret that the labour market has seen better days. There seem to be fewer and fewer jobs out there and competition is stiff. Whether you are thinking about re-entering the workforce, changing fields or getting your feet wet for the first time, everyone can benefit from a little help.

While the Internet has become a useful tool for people on the hunt for a job, nothing beats good old face-to-face human contact. Those of us who remember a time before the Internet can attest to this fact. Employers like to put a face to a name and get a sense of who you are, something they cannot do without meeting you in person.

With this in mind, career fairs are a great way to expand your job-search options.

Some focus on particular fields, while others aim to help people looking for their first job. In some cases, they concentrate on particular cultural or community groups. MAMU! Ensemble! Together! is a career expo developed by the First Nations Human Resources Development Commission of Quebec (FNHRDCQ), that caters specifically to First Nations individuals between the ages of 18 and 35 living in the city.

The 2012 edition of MAMU! was held at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) on January 27. The second of what we hope will remain an annual event. With the help of several collaborators, including Paige Isaac (McGill’s First Peoples’ House), Dolorès André (FNHRDCQ) and Donald Pilot (MAMU!), this year’s event hosted a variety of representatives from organizations, such as Service Canada, The  City of Montreal, Hydro-Québec and The Native Friendship Centre.

It was a day that created an environment in which people could not only explore employment opportunities, but improve, job-hunting skills and network.

A series of interactive activities, including lectures and social networking games like human bingo (an icebreaker game), offered a great opportunity for people to explore career and training options, ask questions and get tips that might help give them a competitive edge in the labour market.

While some people may prefer to stick to the Internet or good old-fashioned “pounding the pavement”, it is important to note that career fairs not only offer an occasion to meet several employers at once, but also the chance to meet employers who you might not otherwise have access to.

If you decide to attend a career expo, remember to treat it like you are headed to a real interview, first impressions do matter. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the experience.

1.    Arrive early – If it is a large-scale event chances are there will be a lot of attendees. Get there early, before the doors open, to secure a good spot in line. The fact that you arrive early will also demonstrate your enthusiasm and drive.

2.    Be prepared – Make several copies of your resume to hand out to potential employers. Prepare a short monologue highlighting your strong points, goals and experience. Be ready to answer any questions you might be asked so that you are not put on the spot.

3.    Dress the part – Job fairs are not casual events, companies have put time and effort into participating and are looking for candidates who do the same. This does not necessarily mean you need to dig out a suit from the back of your closet, but you should do your best to be presentable and look professional. That said, do wear comfortable shoes, you may be on your feet for several hours.

4.    Attend the lectures – Lectures and seminars often provide excellent tips and tools for how to get ahead in the labour market. In some cases they may offer specialized information you may not find anywhere else.

5.    Don’t be shy – Ask questions, collect business cards and take notes to keep all the information you gather organized. Employers are more responsive to people who show interest in their companies.

6.    Network – Career fairs are an ideal way to meet people, employers and other job-hunters. Talking to as many people as possible can open doors to opportunities you may not have known existed. Making new connections can also help people become familiar with your name, which may improve your chances in getting the job you want.

7.    Smile – Be enthusiastic and bring your positivity. Employers are looking for people who will bring a good attitude to a new position.

8.    Say thank you – If you have made a strong connection with one or a few agencies, take the time to write a thank-you e-mail to the contact you have on the business card you’ve collected. Doing this will keep your name fresh in their minds as well as show your continued interest in their company.

Finally, keep in mind that, even if you leave without a job, you will always leave with something of value. Take the experience for what it is, a chance to practice your interviewing and networking skills, and hope for the best. Good luck!