In two previous articles emphasizing continued support for both the military transitioning member and the military spouse, our focus highlighted both the successful engagement with a civilian recruiter, and tips to navigate the job application process.
Many who are searching for employment will be quickly drawn to a career fair (or job fair, depending on the location). Some of these venues are also named “Networking Events.” For most, the simple thought of attending a career fair is intimidating, and many veterans and spouses who I have talked with have simply avoided these events.
To put a label on a career fair as a mandatory event, or another checklist item is an unfair assessment.
The career fair offers many benefits to those currently in job search mode. It offers additional benefits to those who are also currently employed, but looking to expand their professional network or potentially test the open job market in their areas. As with our two previous articles in this series, let’s take a look at some actionable and no-cost steps to succeed at your next career fair.
1. Set your battle rhythm. Prior to setting foot in a fancy ballroom setup for a career fair, you must have an actionable plan. Are you in search of employment? Looking to make contacts with recruiters or hiring managers? Testing the job market? Regardless of your reasoning, setup your plan well in advance.
2. Do your research in advance. Most career fairs offer answers to test questions. They provide you a listing of employers who will be in attendance at these events! Conduct some research. Review their websites, study their company goals, mission, and vision statements (they all have these, in some flavoring). Advanced tip: if you are in full job search mode, go ahead and study a few of their job advertisements. Get the feel for how the company operates a bit ahead of time. It is unreasonable to expect to learn about every company (especially in there are hundreds), but a little preparation effort can go a long way.
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Have a professional suit or blazer prepared the night before. Not familiar with the location? Set it in your GPS, and head out twenty minutes in advance. Eat a decent breakfast, and get a little workout in prior. You will feel more confident about yourself walking in the door. Don’t forget to have a handful of networking cards (you have these, correct?), a professional notepad or journal, and a decent pen. These will all come in handy at the right times.
4. A walk is as good as a hit. In baseball, walking is the equivalent of a nice single to left field. You still arrive safely at first base. Your intention at any career fair is NOT to talk to every recruiter or hiring manager at every booth, and it is certainly NOT to obtain employment on the spot. Your best intentions should be centered on learning from companies, and setting yourself in a position for a future conversation which ultimately can turn into an interview and later employment. As you enter the ballroom for the first time, don’t be shy about striking up a casual conversation to get you to first base.
5. Be confident, but not over the top. There is a subtle difference in being confident, and going a bit overboard. You will likely hear the same question over and over (worded a bit different): “What do you do for a living?” or “What are you looking for?” While a canned elevator speech will not work in every situation, prepare yourself for these situations and questions. Be prepared for these types of conversation starters.
6. Always leave every door open. Many folks who attend career fairs spend little time at each company’s booth. They cycle through tables, tossing networking cards into fish bowls, collecting cups and pens, and making the smallest of conversations. Keeping the discussions brief is valuable, but leave an opportunity when you see it. Skip the collection of an organization’s swag items. If a particular chat is going well, ask a recruiter if you can meet for coffee, or schedule a 15-minute phone call. If you forgot or the lines were long, follow up with an email.
7. Continued follow-up. You’ve successfully navigated a career fair. Now what? When you get to your car, sort the business cards you just collected and make notes. Were interactions positive? Would you like to know or learn more? Make a note of it. Follow-up with an email the very next day. Many recruiters and hiring managers may not remember your face, but they may be highly receptive and appreciative of your follow-up opportunities.
Just like the job application process and the dealing with recruiters, a career fair can seem intimidating. So much, the average job seeker may avoid it. Take advantage of these events, many of which are free to military, veterans, and spouses across the globe. Set a plan, have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and make that next career fair work—for you!
This is the final article in a 3-part series that highlights navigation of the job market. Each article has provided advice for both the military transition as well as the military spouse.
By: Geoffrey Phillips
Mr. Phillips is an IT specialist and professional policy writer / content editor; a non-starving writer always in search of opportunities; a USAF veteran; and a devote Church Elder and family man. His passion is in the pen and the people; he absolutely loves to assist transitioning veterans, and finds himself at peace when he is doing some sort of writing.