Picture this: Gathered together at a central location are two distinct groups of people. On one side of the curtain are dozens of job seekers. On the other side are representatives of organizations with hundreds of jobs to fill. The job seekers are there because a large group of hungry employers are in attendance and the recruiters are there because they have openings and expect to find an impressive talent pool. What you witness when the curtain comes up is a Job Fair.
There are many things to keep in mind in order to maximize your odds of success at a job fair. Below are the twelve most important ones.
Once you've committed to these tips, head over to the Upcoming Job Fairs page to see a calendar of veteran job fairs nationwide, and go for it!
1. Be selective
There are thousands of job fairs in hundreds of cities throughout the year but many of them are probably not appropriate for you. If you have a geographic focus then target job fairs being held in that location. If you have specialized training or experience that you intend to market, then find a fair that is organized around that theme. Most importantly, pick job fairs where the organizations in attendance want to hire people like you. For that reason, pay attention to the ones listed under the JOB FAIRS tab on the military.com website.
2. Be realistic
Understand your objective. It is not to land a job on the spot. Rarely do companies extend job offers during the job fair. The job fair interview is just the first step—a door opener. The target outcome is a second interview with that company. That may occur later the same day or the day after or maybe several weeks later at the job site. Your goal is to generate further interest from every organization that interests you.
3. Be prepared
Try to obtain a list of the attending organizations in advance of the job fair. Even better, learn what positions they are trying to fill. Do your homework. Learn all you can. Show that you care enough to put in the work before you show up. In addition to researching the company and the position, research yourself. You need to know what you bring to the table that is also relevant to the job. Also, make sure you have sufficient copies of your resume to support your activity. Do not be alarmed if the recruiter declines to take your resume, directing you instead to the company's website to apply online. There are frequently EEOC driven legalities that impact the handling of resumes. However, that same recruiter is likely to be very receptive to receiving a business card from you.
4. Be appropriate
Although a job fair is not a formal event in a formal setting, it is a professional event. You need to treat it as such and act accordingly. Unless instructed otherwise, you should dress as if you were going to a formal interview and wear appropriate business attire. Wearing you military uniform is in most cases a mistake, but job fairs held on or near military installations will often allow the uniform to make it easier for active duty personnel to attend. When in doubt ask the organizer of the job fair for guidance.
5. Be smart
Although there are dozens of companies in attendance, not all of them are appropriate for you. Select the ones that interest you and prioritize your list. Bounce your priority list against the length of the line at that booth or table. Decide whether to jockey for the front of the line or to go back later in the day when the line is shorter or perhaps there is no line.
6. Be patient
Expect to spend some time standing in line. There are almost always more job seekers than hiring organizations, so lines are inevitable. Put this time to good use. Mentally rehearse your opening pitch. Review your notes and research. Read your resume. Organize your paperwork. As you get close to the front of the line, resist the temptation to show your impatience with those in line ahead of you. Your turn will come soon.
7. Be memorable
You will be one of several, even dozens, of candidates that the company will meet during the job fair. Will you be remembered at the end of the day? Hopefully yes, and for positive reasons. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to enhance your presentation with a personal story which relates to the open position. Try to inject your personality into the interview. Another excellent technique is to establish rapport with the recruiter or interviewer. Find some common ground. Learn a little bit about them.
8. Be self-confident
Yes, you should be a bit nervous, especially if you are new to this type of event. Make sure that nervousness comes across as energy and enthusiasm, rather than fear or self-doubt. Although the potential employer holds most of the cards at this point, you too have a few in your hand. You have the talent, skill, and attributes that will benefit the right organization.
9. Be friendly
Do not underestimate the value of a firm handshake, a nice smile, and a warm delivery. Your goal is not only to make the recruiter/interviewer see you in the job but also like you enough to want to help you. Establishing and building rapport and empathy will increase your odds. You want this person to advocate for you and that will be much easier for them if they know they are recommending a highly qualified candidate who is also warm, friendly, and interested.
10. Be bold
How do you feel about this organization and the position they are trying to fill? Does it interest you? Do you want the process to go forward? Are you interested in learning more? Assuming a yes answer to those questions, then here is a more important one—do they know it? Just because you stood in the line does not mean you are interested. Tell them! Stick your neck out! Ask for the next step!
11. Be diligent
Just because the job fair is over does not mean you are done. In fact, you have just begun. Hopefully, there will be follow-up activity. Sending a letter that expresses you gratitude and/or interest is very important. Make sure you get the necessary contact information and preferred method of communication. Honor deadlines and stick to agreed upon actions and follow-up.
12. Be thoughtful
Once you have the job fair in your rearview mirror, take a few minutes to analyze the results. What did you learn about your job market? What did you learn about yourself? How many contacts did you make? What leads did your develop? Did your generate follow-up activity? Did you land a job? If so, congratulations! Now would be a great time to reach out to the organization that sponsored the event. Share with them your feedback and results. Better yet, if that fair led to your new job, make sure they know it and thank them for their assistance.
© 2014; Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher, www.potomacbooksinc.com.