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Heritage University junior Denisse Leyva, left, and senior Lesly Gomez walk through a recent Career and Education Job Fair.

 job fair (also known as a career fair, career expo or hiring event) is a networking event connecting employers and job seekers. Some job fairs are aimed at recent high school and college graduates, while others are open to job seekers of all ages and situations. Attending an event with lots of people you don’t know can be challenging (think speed dating), especially if you’re not the most outgoing person in the room.

You have just a few minutes to make a first and lasting impression, so prepare before you go:

Dress to impress: Leave the shorts, leggings, sweats, sneakers and baseball cap at home. You can skip the tie and jacket, but make sure your clothing is clean, ironed and free of holes. Avoid excessive cologne, heavy makeup or a lot of jewelry. Dress as if you were interviewing for your dream job.

Do your research: Find out what companies will be participating in the job fair. Visit their websites, explore their careers page, then make yourself familiar with their mission statement, product line, etc. Use this information to make conversation. Avoid yes-or-no questions. Ask open-ended questions that demonstrate your engagement with the company. For example, ask recruiters what kind of educational background they are looking for in a candidate. Ask them to describe the company’s culture.

The right question will show you’ve put thought into the company. Never walk up to a recruiter and say, “What does your company do?” or worse yet, “What jobs are available? I’m willing to do anything.” Those tell a potential employer you don’t care enough to do research and/or you’re desperate.

What you don’t say counts: Studies show that 93% of communication is nonverbal, so be aware of your body language. Make eye contact. Smile and offer a firm handshake. State your name with confidence. Be positive and optimistic. As painful as it may sound, leave the cellphone in the car. According to a recent CNBC article, one of three hiring managers polled said they would eliminate a candidate for looking at his or her phone!

Bring your resume: Visit companies in priority order so you will have time to visit those organizations that most interest you. Be sure to have plenty of copies of your resume with you. You probably won’t have access to a copier.

Follow up: Ask for business cards as you meet people and follow up after the job fair with a quick email thanking the person for their time and reiterating your skills and abilities. This will make another good impression on the people you met. Include your name in the subject line of the message and reference the specific job fair, since many recruiters attend multiple fairs.

Don’t overlook any company: It’s easy to walk into a job fair and be drawn to the biggest and most attractive table sponsored by the largest and most established company. According to Business News Daily, Washington state hosts 608,956 small businesses that employ 1.4 million workers — more than half of the state’s private-sector workforce. So visit every booth, not just the ones with the flashing lights, candy and free stuff.

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.