- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Ten Steps to a Successful Military Job Fair
by Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: CSX

Gather intelligence to prepare. Execute the mission with precision. And win the battle against your competition for a job interview (and perhaps, if you do things right, more than one interview!).

Is it really that simple? It is, if you remember these 10 things before, during and after walking into a sea of civilian suits.

Before the job fair:
1. Track down five to 10 people whose jobs matched or were similar to yours in the service. Ask what they're doing now. Then find out if their companies or similar companies will be at the job fair, says Garrett Miller, hiring expert and author of Hire on a WHIM: Four Qualities that Make for Great Employees. This essentially allows you to "take off the blinders" - to wit, to keep in mind that your skills may dovetail with a company you might not otherwise consider, Miller says.

"I've found that as people walk around job fairs, they're trying to figure out whether their skills will match. They walk up to a table and ask, 'What do you guys do?' I'd rather learn from people who've gone before me, who have the same skill sets, experiences, and begin there, before I go to the job fair," Miller says.

2. Prepare an "elevator speech" (one that you could say between floors on an elevator, for instance) of who you are, what you've done and what you can bring to the organization, Miller says. The speech should reflect not only your skills and experience, but also your character and ethics, he says. "It may be a statement like, "As a combat troop, we were working 90 hours a week. I want you to know that I'm not afraid to work, and I won't back down from hard work, and I know what hard work produces,'" he says.

Or, "The integrity that I learned and that was ingrained into me is what I will bring to your organization. You'll never have to worry about me cutting corners. I will bring these core principles to your business every day as I did in the military police."

3. Rehearse two different stories - the one that goes with the uniform at the federal job fair and the story of who you are that has been civilianized for the suit-and-tie job fair, says Wendy Enelow, co-author of Expert Resumes for Military-to-Civilian Transitions. She also writes the "Job Front" column for American Legion Magazine.

Specifically, don't use military jargon or lingo at a civilian job fair, and practice speaking as a civilian would. To do that, first hire a resume writer that specializes in converting your resume into a civilian-friendly document (Civilian Job News' partner for example). Then, study the summary and the phraseology within it to communicate your skills, expertise and past jobs in a way that civilians will understand, Enelow says.

4. Put your resume on something other than white copy paper. The reason is very simple: "A recruiter gets back to their office and has 500 resumes, 498 of which are on white paper. This is your way of standing out," Enelow says. Now, don't use fluorescent purple. But design a "conservatively distinctive" document, she says. Use specialty paper (known as resume paper in an off-white color).

That said, also don't be discouraged if recruiters won't take your resume at the event. A common practice nowadays is to direct candidates to send their electronic resumes to the company Web site. "You normally don't get a job out of Tier One contacts, but where you do get them is Tier Two and Tier Three. The most important thing about a job fair is that in most cases, they are not there to interview you. They might eventually, but won't give you one that day. It's a place you go to make contacts," Enelow says.

5. Research the companies that will be there, and categorize them as "A targets" and "B targets" to make the most of your time at the job fair, says Jordan Rayboy, president and CEO of Rayboy Insider Search, a headhunting firm specializing in placing people within the niche area of Information Technology data storage.

"Part of that research is a list of questions prepared to showcase your talents. Exhibit your qualifications for the market by the quality and depth of the questioning. For example, with a sales opportunity, ask about territory, quota, or accelerators once you're past quota," Rayboy says.

Or, ask company-specific questions: Why do people stay there? What's working well for the company? If line managers are present, ask them, "If you were the CEO, what would you change? Can the company improve?"

During the job fair:
6. Be "one of them," Enelow says. That means, dress the part. "For the government-DoD community, sometimes there is some overlap between military and civilian. But generally, they are two distinct events. So find out the audience and dress appropriately. Look like you already belong. If you show up in a military uniform at a corporate job fair, you're an outsider automatically. Show up in a suit and tie; you're one of them." However, it is common for job seekers to wear their duty uniform to on-base / military-sponsored job fairs, such as those presented by

7. Work the room from back to front - and be early, Enelow says. "Everyone else is at the front. So that's how you stand out from the crowd. Be one of the first in line, then walk in and go to back of the room. The companies in the back spend an hour all by themselves. What a great opportunity for you! Plus they'll have time to talk to you. If 200 people get in line at Table X at IBM, versus in the back, you're working with someone who has a few minutes to talk to you."

8. Connect the dots for the recruiters, Miller says. For example, tell them you know people who are working for companies like theirs and the types of jobs they are doing. Explain you do something similar in the military. That way, they won't dismiss you out of hand if your job in the military doesn't seem to mesh entirely with what they do. "They'll think that it's great that you've done your research. It's demonstrating engagement, and that's what employers are looking for," he says.

After the job fair:
9. Accept as many opportunities to interview as you can, even if you don't know whether that company is right for you. Miller says. If it's not the company for you, or vice versa, you never know whether someone there will know of someone else who is hiring. Or you may know of another candidate whom the company could hire.

"This is the time to network. Believe me: That's the way you find the best jobs. I'd venture to guess that best interviews begin with networking with the right people," Miller says.

10. Ask closing-oriented questions at the end of your conversation with each recruiter, Rayboy says. For example, "Do you have any concerns that make you think I'm not qualified or would prevent you from moving forward with me in the process?"

"Most interviewers are not candid enough to say, 'Thanks, I don't think is a fit because of this, this and this.' They say, 'We'll get back to you.' They won't voice it unless you ask. And you might have all the experience they're looking for, but perhaps it wasn't the focus of the interview or the conversation. They may think you don't have it when you have it by the boatload," Rayboy says.

A recruiter may say, "I'm concerned you haven't managed enough people," and you could counter with, "I'm glad you mentioned that, because I managed 75 people in this position for x number of years," Rayboy says.

The last question is, "What's the next step in the process?"

"Ask their timeframe: how soon are they looking to bring someone on board? Is it by the beginning of the next quarter or yesterday? Then ask, 'Would you like to move forward with me in the process? I'm interested in pursuing this and could add value to your organization. What do you need to do to get the next step scheduled?' If you get push back, reiterate the question about whether something is preventing them from calling you back. Sometimes they might be more forthcoming the second time you ask," Rayboy says. However, there is a limit to being insistent. Don't be too overbearing. Use your best judgment.


Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience who writes about employment and business issues.

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