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Lies They Tell Transitioning Veterans: Veteran Career Fairs Don't Work

Line at career fair

This 11-part series entitled "Lies They Tell Transitioning Veterans" first appeared on the RecruitMilitary website and was contributed by Peter A. Gudmundsson, a former U.S. Marine artillery officer and the CEO of RecruitMilitary, a leading provider of veteran hiring solutions.

As CEO of one of the nation's leading producers of veteran career fairs, I have heard from some veteran candidates that their transition classes discouraged them from attending events. This is classic bad advice that I will put to rest in this article.

As a Marine, I remember being on liberty in some exotic port city and walking by a club or bar where a leaving shipmate, perhaps obnoxiously tipsy at that moment, loudly declared that the location was a waste of time and money. On occasion, my friends and I might have disregarded that advice, entered the establishment and ended up having a wonderful evening discussing the great books and contemporary literature with the locals. It is the same with high quality veteran career fairs. There is always some know-it-all who is prepared to dismiss the activity even as others are wildly successful. Our own RecruitMilitary numbers prove this with 80% of job seeker attendees recommending the expo they attended, while the remainder are less successful.

Well-run veteran career fairs are a great way to establish contacts and relationships, obtain information about opportunities and directly apply for jobs. You will not likely achieve all of these objectives at each table, but if you work the fair with a plan and the right attitude, it will be a critical component of an effective job search effort.

Here are some of the misconceptions that lead veterans astray from making the most of career fairs:

1. "The employers are not serious about hiring. They only want to 'wave the flag.'"

Just because a company does not seem interested in you does not mean they are not serious about veteran hiring. Companies pay $1,295 to attend a RecruitMilitary career fair and they have to pay the salaries of two or more employees for the day. Why would they do this if they did not want to hire real veterans? There are far cheaper and ostentatious ways to show support for the troops than attending career fairs. Recruiters attend veteran career fairs because they suspect or know that veterans are the answer to one or more of their talent needs. All organizations need great people; veterans are great people; and therefore all organizations need veterans.

2. "Some employers won't take my resume so what is the point of attending?"

It is an unfortunate reality that some companies interpret Federal law to mean that they cannot accept resumes at a career fair. This has to do with Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs ("OFCCP") rules that are, ironically, designed to help veterans and other groups with companies that work Federal contracts. I will spare the political commentary, but the rules are real and not the fault of the employers. The way to handle this problem is to apply online before the fair and bring a copy of the online confirmation form from the company's applicant tracking system. This will help the career fair exhibitor give you candid feedback and track your application.

3. "The companies don't have the jobs I seek."

It is common for veterans to assume that a company does not have the types of jobs that they seek. This is why we encourage candidates to talk to the employers at every table. Who would otherwise know that a Kroger hires a lot more than cashiers or that a bank is looking for many functions beyond tellers? The job seeker should research the company attendees ahead of time, know what sort of positions they seek to fill and come prepared with an action plan for the fair. Don't presume to know what a company needs just by their signage or brand name.

4. "All veteran career fairs are the same."

Some veteran career fairs are sponsored by organizations that have a surfeit of good intentions but lack access to employers or the logistical skills to operate a successful event. Sometimes veterans are tempted to conclude that because one event they attended was substandard that the whole category lacks purpose. Think about it, would you foreswear all restaurants because of one poor meal? Attend veteran career fairs of reputable companies and judge them by the quality of companies represented. Also, appreciate that your success at the fair is primarily up to you.

5. "There are too many schools at the career fair."

Veterans are sometimes irked by the number of schools and universities that attend career fairs. Quite reasonably, the job seekers want a paycheck and not a tuition bill. But most schools are skilled marketers. They attend these fairs because they know that they work. If they enroll one student as a result of the fair they are generally happy. Some schools are actually hiring personnel at the fairs and none of them are known to physically assault fair attendees. So, if you are not interested in furthering your education and you are sure you don't want to work at a school, just bypass the school's table and go to the next one.

In many ways, working a career fair is a microcosm of the whole job search experience. You need to maintain and project a positive mental attitude, know what you seek to accomplish and have a plan for achieving that goal. Whether it is information, networking contacts or actual job interviews, if you know what constitutes success, you are more likely to achieve it.

Vigorously and intelligently working a high quality veterans' career fair can be an important element of your job search. It should not be the only part or you are not working hard enough. Don't listen to negative naysayers who dismiss any smart and productive job search tactic. Usually it is they who are missing out while you take another positive step in your career.

About the Author:

Peter A. Gudmundsson is a former US Marine artillery officer and is the CEO of RecruitMilitary, a leading provider of veteran hiring solutions. He may be reached at @PAGudmundsson.

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