How to Get the Most from a Job Fair

Sgt. 1st Class Kavita Harry and Staff Sgt. Frantz Gourge talk to AW2 representatives during the Fort hood WTU job fair (Photo Credit: Ms. Gloria Montgomery (Army Medicine))

More and more, job fairs and career expos are popular venues for veterans transitioning to civilian careers. The format of job fairs varies, but most offer:

  • presentations by industry experts, transition specialists, and employers
  • an opportunity to meet and converse with employers seeking to hire (and who have open jobs)
  • coaching opportunities with hiring managers and interview specialists
  • collateral and marketing information about the sponsoring and presenting companies for job candidates interested in learning more
  • networking opportunities with other job applicants, experts and employers

​​​​​​​What You Might Be Doing Wrong

Typically, job seekers approach job fairs like a speed dating event: They dress up, bring resumes, and spend approximately 8.6 minutes at each employer’s booth or display table.  Most job seekers:

  • don’t research the companies attending in advance
  • forget to bring a clear value proposition matching what those companies are looking for
  • neglect to prepare, and practice, their introduction and elevator pitch
  • don’t have a sense of the type of work they’re looking to do and the jobs they want
  • haven’t translated their previous military experience to civilian work

The biggest mistake most job seekers make is assuming that the other people at the event are there to serve them – to make it easy for them to get to work in meaningful careers. Instead, the employers presenting, recruiting, and manning the display tables are there to source great candidates (for today and tomorrow), as well as build brand awareness for the company.

Get the Most from a Job Fair

While the admission to the event might have no fee or cost, they aren’t “free” for attendees. You have to put gas in your car to drive there, or pay for a train or bus ticket, parking is not always free, you’re dry cleaning your suit, printing resumes, and maybe hiring a babysitter for the kids so you can attend. This means to get the most from the event, you should have a plan.

To successfully attend a job fair, focus on:

  1. Research the companies you want to meet there. What do they look for in candidates? Are they hiring? Do they hire military veterans? Into what positions do they hire veterans?
  2. Research the people who will be representing the companies. Sometimes, companies publish who will be presenting at the event, or will be doing onsite coaching or even job interviews. Look at these individual’s online presence, and find out: do you share anything in common (e.g. schooling, contacts, interests).
  3. Refine your offer. What makes you valuable to the companies you want to approach? What about your background, passions, skills and talents aligns with their hiring goals?
  4. Know your resume. If you’ve had someone help you with your resume, and they “de-militarized” it to make it relatable to civilian hiring managers and recruiters, be sure you can speak to every word. Ensure the language, tone, and results listed are yours and will be consistent with what you represent in person.
  5. Bring a confident and positive attitude. Job fairs are work, and can be tiring for everyone. No matter how frustrated or exhausted you feel, approach every new person with a smile, firm handshake and positive attitude. The next person you greet warmly and confidently may be the exact person you need to meet for a great new career!

Attending job fairs and career expos with a clear value proposition, advanced research and preparation, and specific goals is critical for success. Add a polite and confident smile and you’ll leave a positive impression with employers and others you meet!

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