Attend Job Fairs as a Transition Strategy

Job fairs are great ways for service members and veterans to survey job opportunities, meet employers, network, practice interview skills, learn about salaries and benefits, and possibly get hired on the spot.

While you will find many job fairs operating in large cities (check the classified section of your Sunday newspaper for large ads announcing such events), a few organizations sponsor job fairs specifically for transitioning military, including ones specializing in JMOs, military intelligence, and top secret clearances.

Check out these websites for the job fair nearest you:

Corporate Gray
Military Officers Association of America
Non Commissioned Officers Association
Intelligence Careers
Tech Expo USA
For current listings of upcoming military job fairs, visit this section of the TAonline website:

job fairThe typical job fair is held in a large conference room of a hotel or a public building and takes place over one day - often from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 6 p.m.

Many employers have representatives at tables or booths who advertise their company or organization and are looking for candidates who meet their hiring requirements. Job seekers circulate among the various displays (booths and tables) as they try to learn more about the organizations, pick up literature, talk with a representative, and leave a resume.

Job fairs can be very enlightening experiences for job seekers, especially if they find a good selection of employers and if the job fair also includes special job search workshops, such as writing resumes, interviewing for jobs, or using a job fair in your job search.

Job fairs for transitioning military are great places to survey employment options, practice job search skills, meet employer representatives, interview for jobs, and possibly land a job. You should keep the following nine tips in mind when planning to attend a job fair:

  1. Check to see if you qualify for the job fair. Some job fairs are open to the general public and involve many different types of employers. These general job fairs are sometimes sponsored by a single company that is opening a new business and needs to recruit hundreds of people, such as a large hotel and conference center, sports arena, or an amusement park.

    Many job fairs specialize in a particular skill or occupational area. For example, some job fairs only focus on high-tech and computer skills. Others may specialize in clerical skills or the construction trades.

    And still others may be organized for government-related jobs and the intelligence community.

    Most military job fairs are open to all members of the military as well as veterans. A typical such job fair may include 50 to 100 employers and be attended by several hundred individuals who will soon be separating from the service.

    Many veterans, who are looking to change civilian employers, may also attend these job fairs.

    Other military job fairs may be restricted to JMOs, officers, noncommissioned officers, and individuals with top secret security clearances. Special career events, such as career conferences sponsored by a single company, may be by invitation only.

  2. Be sure to pre-register for the job fair. Some job fairs require you to pre-register for the event - not just show up at the door. Others only require registration at the door.

    One of the registration requirements is to submit a resume which, in turn, is entered into a resume database. This database enables employers attending the job fair to review the resumes online before and after the job fair.

  3. Plan ahead. Prior to attending the event, try to get a list of companies that will be attending. Research several of the companies on the Internet. Discover what they do, who they employ, and what is particularly unique or different about them.

    If you do this before you go the job fair, you will have some knowledge of those employers you want to meet. Better still, you'll impress the representatives when you indicate you know something about what they do. You'll avoid asking that killer question - "What do you do?" Being prepared in this manner also means you will be more at ease in talking with employers, because you have some common-ground knowledge for engaging in an intelligent job-oriented conversation.

  4. Be prepared to interview for the job. Since some employers will actually interview candidates, don't assume a job fair is merely a casual "get together" to just meet employers.

    Prepare for a job fair in the same way you would prepare for a job interview (see Chapter 15 of the book cited below):

    • bring a positive attitude
    • be enthusiastic and energetic
    • anticipate questions
    • prepare your own questions
    • observe all the verbal and nonverbal rules for interview success

  5. Bring copies of your resume to the job fair. Since you will be meeting many employers at the job fair as you circulate from one table or booth to another, your calling card is your resume.

    A good rule of thumb is to bring 25 to 50 copies of your resume to the job fair. Many job fairs also provide copying services, just in case you need to make more copies of your resume.

    If the employer is interested in you, they will want to see your resume. Best of all, they will give you instant feedback on your qualifications. In many cases, they will interview you on the spot, asking questions you may be unprepared to answer!

    So make sure you write a terrific resume as well as bring enough copies for every employer you are interested in meeting. Anticipate being asked questions that normally arise during a formal job interview.

  6. Dress appropriately. Job fairs are places where first impressions are very important. Be sure to dress as if you were going to a formal job interview - conservative and neat.

    Most military job fair organizers recommend two types of attire - service dress uniform or business attire. Remember, you are meeting representatives of employers, and some encounters may turn into actual interviews in the representative's booth.

  7. Prepare a 30-second pitch. Your 30-second pitch should tell an employer who you are and what skills and experience you have that should be of interest to the employer. Tell them why they should consider interviewing and hiring you.

  8. Expect the unexpected. Many first-time job fair attendees are surprised and unprepared to respond to prospective employer's questions. As a result, many make mistakes that could negatively affect their employment prospects and income.

    For example, don't be shocked to encounter this question: "What are your salary expectations?" or "What kind of salary are looking for?"

    Be very careful how you respond to this killer inquiry, which is primarily designed to quickly screen you in or out of further consideration. Not prepared for this question, some attendees stammer and then blurt out a specific figure that may be too low or too high.

    At this stage in your job search, your answer should always be something like this: "I'm open at this stage. Could you tell me more about the job and what it normally pays for someone with my qualifications?" This puts the salary ball in the employer's court, which is where it should always be.

    Remember the old poker saying - he who reveals his hand first loses the advantage. Salary is always that last thing you discuss after you have received a job offer. Never discuss salary at a job fair.

  9. Follow up your contacts within five days. Job fairs are all about networking with employers. If you're interested in an employer and you've had a chance to meet a representative and get his or her name and business card, be sure to follow up with a phone call and/or email within five days of your meeting.

    This communication will remind the individual of your continuing interest and may result in a formal job interview with other company representatives.

SOURCE: Adapted from Military Transition to Civilian Success (Impact Publications), pages 145-148. Copyright 2006. All rights reserved.