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Table Manners: 3 Key Tips for Job Fairs

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I spend a lot of time at job fairs and career expos these days. I am not looking for a job, but part of my current role is to help veterans, servicemembers and their families find new career opportunities. Military.com and NCOA host 45 Career Expos annually, and I have the privilege to attend many of these.

Here is a key tactic that most that most jobseekers overlook when attending a job or career fair:  

Stop at every table!

One mistake we all make on occasion is to generalize. For example, people assume that health care companies are only hiring health care workers, or that insurance companies only need agents. So when they encounter these tables or displays, they typically say nothing and keep moving.

Here are three great reasons why one should visit every exhibit at a job or career fair.

1. Help Wanted – but perhaps not the jobs you think

Recently, at one of our CareerExpos, I approached the University of North Carolina Health Care System table and ask them what there were looking to hire.  The representative was quick to state: "Well, our biggest need is carpenters and plumbers." I was shocked! As I began to learn what the UNC Health Care System did, it made perfect sense. As the largest health care provider in the state of North Carolina, the System owns dozens of facilities; therefore they require a large cadre of licensed trade professionals.

My point here is:  How many people walked by that table, assuming the only openings would be for health-related professions? Without the "stop at every table" strategy,  I know I would have. One never knows the need of an organization unless he or she asks. So, it is crucial for attendees to stop at every table, learn more about the company, and ask what they may be seeking.

2. License to Thrill – Sell yourself

Along with getting to know more about organizations and companies, I encourage attendees with this advice:  "Today, you have permission to be an extrovert and your own agent! No one should be able to market YOU better than YOU CAN!"

Attendees sometimes tell us that they wait in line to talk to people at the tables, only to feel frustrated because they are told to apply online. I explain that this is an opportunity for one to make a lasting impression on that representative. True, those who are manning these tables may not be the hiring authority, but they certainly know that person very well! Would it not be great for them to return to the corporate office asking that hiring manager to find the application of a dynamic, confident applicant who really impacted them? Talk about a leg up on the competition!

3. Vocational Nirvana – Your dream career awaits

I like to get feedback on how we did at our events, so I ask people for their thoughts as they are leaving the exhibit hall. I met a veteran in San Antonio at the door. I will call him Joe. He was quick to tell me that he was disappointed because he did not find any law enforcement agencies among our exhibitors. I asked him if he talked with USAA. Why should Joe talk with an insurance agency?  Because USAA's Headquarters is located on a 200 acre campus in North West San Antonio . They have, in essence, their own police force! Joe had no idea, because he did not visit every table. I was eager to take him back over to USAA, and he left that day a satisfied customer!

The heart of this matter is summarized this way: Your mission is fact finding and networking. By spending time at each table, one learns to overcome stereotypes which lead to erroneous assumptions. More importantly, that career path and perhaps dream job may never materialize all because a seeker did not take the time to investigate opportunities.

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Dr. Randy Plunkett is the Director of Community and Government Outreach for Military.com. Throughout his 20-plus years in the Air Force, Dr. Plunkett used tuition assistance, the GI Bill and scholarships in his quest to obtain college and graduate education. Prior to retiring from the Air Force in 2004 as a Senior Master Sergeant (E-8), he earned a Doctorate of Education in Educational Innovation and Leadership from Wilmington University in New Castle, DE. An ardent advocate for issues pertaining to service members, veterans, and their families, Dr. Plunkett is a popular speaker at conferences, graduations, and military functions.

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