How to Network at a Job Fair
As you transition from a military to a civilian career, you will find yourself in numerous networking scenarios. From cocktail parties, to neighborhood barbecues to job fairs, you will be in situations where you could very likely meet key contacts who can help you in your career growth.
Job fairs are organized events where employers, hiring managers career consultants, non-profit organizations, and community organizations come together to provide resources, connections, and job opportunities to candidates. There are job fairs based on location (e.g. your community job fair for local employment), fairs for industries (e.g. aerospace careers or manufacturing jobs) and job fairs for candidates of a similar kind (e.g., veteran job fairs, recent college graduates job fairs, etc.)
Before The Event—The Prep
Before you head out to a job fair, there are some things you need to do to prepare. Aside from bringing your resume, recruiters and hiring manager are expecting to see and looking for, more than just your professional resume.
As I write in previous articles on Military.com, your personal brand comes to life as you network in person and online. Job fairs are a perfect place to share your value proposition and brand with potential employers! Before you go to the job fair, consider these tips:
1. Know your value proposition. What is the value you bring to an employer? Why should they hire you? (HINT: If you can't articulate this, how could they?)
2. Focus on who you want to meet ahead of time. Get the list of employers who will be at the job fair; research their company--from values to job openings to hiring personnel, to social media activity--know all that you can about them before you get there.
3. Print business cards. Even if you are unemployed, print basic business cards with your name, contact information (email and cell phone) and maybe a line that says what you are focused on (i.e. "seeking career in IT management with global company").
4. Consider whether wearing your uniform will serve you well or not? If you are transitioning to a civilian job, many employers want to see that you will fit in if hired, and wearing a uniform could send a mixed message. Contrary, if you are pursuing a civilian career where your work in the service is a key differentiator (maybe you want to help with a veteran hiring program at a corporation), then wearing your uniform could help you stand apart.
5. Bring plenty of clean, crisp resumes. It is important to have resumes on hand, as that is expected. Make sure you carry a portfolio or briefcase to keep them wrinkle free and fresh.
At The Event
Once you are at the event and seek out those companies and individuals you researched in advance, pay attention to how you are showing up:
1. Body language counts for a lot. Studies have reported that over 90% of information received by others is non-verbal. This means you should pay attention to your stature and posture (standing up straight, shoulders back), your hands (keep hands displayed in front of you not stuffed into your pockets as if you are hiding something), spatial relationships (avoid standing too close to--or too far away from--the person to whom you are speaking. Good eye contact is crucial. You may not have an answer to every question asked of you, but eye contact (looking the other person squarely in the eyes) helps convey confidence and respect for self and others.
2. Pay attention to conversations you have with people you meet. Listen for one or two discussion highlights that you can follow up on. For instance, if you meet a recruiter who comments on how many attendees are present at the event or if you meet an employer who remarks on a presentation given earlier in the day, use those points in your follow up to remind them of their conversation with you.
3. Offer everyone you meet your card. Ask for theirs. You cannot follow up if you don't have their information. Be sure to always keep business cards you are handing out (yours) in one pocket and cards you are receiving in a different pocket. This will prevent you from passing along someone else's business card instead of yours!
4. As a follow up to #2, take notes as you meet people. In those few minutes after you converse with a new contact, recruiter, consultant or advisor at a job fair, write a few quick notes on the back of their business card. Write notes about your follow up plan or anything you promised to get to them (or they offered to do for you) so you can remember later, when you have many business cards.
5. Deliver your elevator speech with confidence and authenticity. Have your value proposition so well organized in advance that you can communicate your offer in sound bites. Make sure everyone you meet knows who you are, what you do and what you are seeking.
6. Show enthusiasm. Whether you are at the job fair because you are just getting started in your transition or you feel you are at the end of your job-searching rope, never let your nerves show. This is easier said than done, yes. But your goal in those few minutes you have with the people you will meet is to convey your best, most positive self. Show enthusiasm, confidence, and excitement for the future and what you can offer.
After The Event
Follow up after a job fair or other networking event is vital. You can't assume that everyone who met you will remember how incredible you are or what you can offer him or her. You will need to remind them!
Using the goals you set out in advance and the notes you took at the event (on their business cards), here are some tips for follow up:
1. Email each person you met regardless of whether they were a job seeker, recruiter, speaker or consultant. Build your network.
2. Personalize your emails by referring to A) What you said about your value proposition, goals, personal brand, reason for attending; B) What they told you (highlights from above); and C) What you would like to see happen as a next step (for instance, "I would like to schedule time to speak with you on the telephone," or "I would like an opportunity to meet with you again when I am in New York next month," or "I will be applying for that open job on your company website. Can you please confirm when you have received my resume?"
3. Record this new contact and your notes in whatever system you will use to track your network. You might add them as a contact in your Outlook email system and enter the notes into their record. Or, you can set up a spreadsheet and track interactions and follow up there. It is important to keep track of your follow up so you can manage and meet expectations.
In the civilian work environment, networking is an important component to business success. Building your personal brand and reputation means consistently representing yourself across all networks--online and in person--and providing value and intention in how you build relationships.