13 Tips to Make the Most of Any Job Fair

(U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Figueroa)

Question: I've gone to three job fairs as I get ready to leave the Air Force. No results, no leads, nothing. Are they worth going to?

Answer: I can appreciate your frustration and applaud you for giving it three attempts before sending this question.

Job fairs are fabulous opportunities to fulfill several goals, including:

  • Get to know employers in your area of interest;
  • Network with others pursuing new careers, recruiters in various companies and speakers who present on relevant topics;
  • Learn about industries that are hiring and what's needed to secure employment; and
  • Practice your elevator pitch and networking skills.

To get the most from attending job fairs, there are a few things to do and remember both before you go to the event and while you're there.

Before the Job Fair

1. Research which companies will be participating.
Participation means they have a booth at the job fair, will be presenting workshops, conducting on site interviews, etc.

Learn about the company (what's their primary business? Who is their competition? Is their track record solid, or is their business at risk?), their culture (What does it take to successfully gain employment there? What keeps employees working there? How do they describe their company personality?), their industry (is the industry growing or shrinking? Who are the primary companies thriving in the industry?) and any recruiters or hiring managers who will be on-site (look at their LinkedIn profiles to learn about their background, work history, area of focus, etc.)

Bring a list of the companies you want to meet with, what you know about them and why you're a fit for their organization.

2. Look over the company's career page.

Familiarize yourself with the hiring processes of the companies you'll be meeting with. If there are requirements or documents you'll need to have with you, gather those before you head to the job fair.

Review the open jobs they have available. See which ones you'll apply for or discuss with representatives on-site.

3. Do informational interviews.

Ahead of the job fair, talk to people you know who work for the companies, or know about the companies, to learn more about the culture, hiring process, etc.

4. Have print and electronic resumes.

While you may be asked to complete job applications online, always have printed copies on hand in case you need them. Also, put your resume onto a thumb drive so you can easily upload it to their application on-site.

5. Review questions you might be asked.

Ahead of the job fair, consider how you'll answer typical questions, such as:

  • Why are you leaving the military?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What is it about our company that most excites you?

Be prepared so you're confident and clear in your responses.

6. Ensure your clothes are ready.

If you wear a suit, have it cleaned and pressed so you feel fresh and professional. If you'll be dressed more "business casual," remember that first impressions matter. Be sure your clothes are clean, free from tears, holes or scuffs (shoes in particular), so you'll feel your best.

7. Practice your elevator pitch.

Rehearse how you'll introduce yourself, how you'll engage with recruiters and what you'll say to new networking contacts. Communications in the civilian sector is different from the military, and this takes finesse and practice to be comfortable with the difference in style and language.

As you can see, there's a lot of advanced work needed to be successful at the job fair.

During the Job Fair

1. Keep an open mind.

You may have had negative experiences in the past, but this is a new opportunity. Greet every person you meet with friendliness, professionalism and an unbiased outlook. You may never see them again, ... or they could become your new best friend or employer. You just don't know.

2. Consider every encounter as a job interview.

Do not relax so much that you say things you'll regret by speaking out of turn or too casually. Even "small talk" is a time for a potential employer to assess your fit in their company and culture.

3. Visit your target employers.

No matter how distracted you get, ensure you talk to the companies you set out to meet. Don't be shy. Let them see you and hear your enthusiasm for the opportunities they have available.

4. Deliver your elevator pitch.

You will speak about yourself over and over the day of the job fair. This is normal. Ensure you're highlighting the value you offer, summarizing your background and skills, and showing excitement for their company.

5. Refrain from speaking negatives.

Practice how you'll explain why you're leaving the military. You never want to speak negatively of past experiences, bosses or jobs. Practice this so you can phrase your messaging to be clear, accurate and confident.

6. End strong.

When you finish a conversation, end with a smile and a handshake. Leave a good impression. If there's any follow-up required (complete the application online, send in another resume, call in a week, etc.), make a note so you can be sure to follow up.

Remember that every experience is a chance to meet connections, learn about opportunities and advance your positioning. Use online tools for research and connection, showcase your personality and skills when you meet in person, and follow up with a thank-you note or online message to remind the employer who you are and why they should consider you. This ensures you're getting the most value (and improving the likelihood of success) from job fairs.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication, and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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