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Are Job Fairs More Like Clubbing Than Speed Dating?

Somehow I pictured the Hiring Our Heroes job fair for military spouses in Washington DC last week as the career equivalent of speed dating. I imagined employers seated at little tables with a candle and a flower. I imagined military spouse job seekers in little black suits going from table to table on mini-interviews. I imagined someone reading my resume and realizing I was The One.

Clearly, my imagination was way out of control.

Because the reality was that the job fair -- one of 20 to be held for military spouses this year alone-- was a whole lot more like clubbing than focused speed dating. The organizers had done an awesome job of setting up the space with employers at booths and mini-classrooms around the edges and child care clearly marked and staffed with workers in bright gold t-shirts.

 But to the uninitiated, the space was as crowded and overwhelming as a club can be. Even though staff members were poised right at the entrance to help navigate the event, it took me a little while to figure out what I was doing. I scanned tables. I had someone look at my resume. I stood in line and chatted with the other participants as the recruiter from SAIC took our resumes and placed them facedown on a table with a stack of other resumes.

"I swear I left there feeling old and tired and unemployable and that no one would ever want me!" I exclaimed to my girlfriend the next day.

"So it was exactly like you going to a club," she said dryly.

"Without the leather miniskirt," I said.

"So why go?" My friend asked. "I was going to go to the one in San Diego but I'm not that good at talking to strangers anyway and I don't know how it would help me. So why go?"

Great question. I say you go for the same reasons you might choose to go to a club even though the chance of meeting your true love there is kinda low. You go because of everything else that is available in the space. Just like in a club you can find friends and music and dancing and bright lights and drinks with tiny umbrellas, at a job fair you find all kinds of worthwhile extras. The lady who looked at my resume gave me tips that made me feel a lot better when I sent it out to other employers the next day. I found a new program that helps military spouse entrepreneurs develop a business plan for free which might really work for me. I signed up for the Military Spouse Business Association because those ladies are really rooting for military spouses.

Granted, I did not find my One True Job at that job fair. But some people did. Some of us left that job fair the way some people leave a club -- with The One. The rest of us left with a couple of phone numbers, a website, a scrap of hope left in resume-form. When you are walking away from a job fair -- when you are tired and your feet hurt and you are discouraged--that doesn't seem like a lot to get a job on. But lots of the time, it is.

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Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs at and a military sociologist.  Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan??

Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times.  Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.  

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