- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

The Employment Perfect Storm for Ex-Military
by Tom Wolfe, Senior Contributing Editor

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Tom Wolfe

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 company representatives 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 - an employment perfect storm for ex-military! Depending on the two guest lists and the number of controls that are in place, what you are witnessing when the curtain comes up is either a job fair or a hiring conference. Regardless of the label, these events can have a positive impact on your job search.

Job fairs
Job fairs may be hosted by private-sector companies (such as or not-for-profit organizations or agencies, such as college alumni associations, professional societies, TAP/ACAP offices, and veterans groups. A job fair is set up like a trade show. There is a central exhibition area with booths, tables, signage, and static displays. Dozens of companies are in attendance and representatives from each are staffing their own bit of turf.

Generally, job seekers attend free of charge. When the doors open, the candidates enter the exhibition area and begin to roam. The line in front of one company's table is long and there may be one in line at the booth next door. A candidate gradually works his or her way to the front of the line, hands the company recruiter a resume, and has 30 seconds to land a follow-up interview later that day.

Mutual interest
Although highly productive, job fairs are not without their flaws. They are usually "open houses," i.e., there is little control on who can or cannot attend and there is no guarantee that the advertised companies will actually attend. There is no way of knowing in advance if any of the attendees match. There is much standing in line, or perhaps no one stands in the line. Even with these risks, the job fair has strong potential to add value to a job search, most of which arises from the fact that highly motivated and mutually interested parties are coming together in a central location.

Now let's take the job fair concept and refine it. By adding some controls, eliminating the open house, and personalizing the matchmaking process, a job fair morphs into a hiring conference.

Hiring conference
What if attendance for both candidates and companies was by invitation only? What if the candidates are screened in advance, based on both qualifications and interests? What if the organization sponsoring the event knows enough about the needs of both the candidates and the companies that they could pre-schedule one-on-one interviews, eliminating the need for both the central exhibition area and the standing in line? What if both parties knew in advance what was in store for them? The candidates have an indication of which companies are on their schedules and the companies have screened resumes and approved their slates of interviews.

Answer these "what ifs" in the affirmative and you end up with a hiring conference instead of a job fair. One more difference - unlike job fairs, hiring conferences are almost exclusively sponsored by private companies, most of which are in the career placement industry. ConferenceHire® military hiring events from Bradley-Morris, Inc. are a good example of these.

Value added
Be it a hiring conference or a job fair for ex-military, there is value to be found in each, the obvious being cost. Although the job seeker may incur travel costs (transportation, hotel, food, etc.), they pay nothing or very little to attend. The key to finding additional value is in being selective. Find conferences or fairs that target either your professional/academic profile or a particular segment of the job market that holds strong interest for you. Prior to attending a job fair, try to obtain a list of the companies that are expected to attend and a list of the positions to be filled.

Due to the pre-scheduled nature of a hiring conference, there can be additional value added. A day or two in advance, the organization hosting it may be able to give you a preview of your interview schedule, both the names of the companies and the types of positions. This is important for two reasons - you will have time to do your homework or you will know in advance whether or not you should attend. A well-established and professional placement company will provide you with this courtesy as a standard procedure.

Bottom line - incorporate one or both of these events into your overall search plan and you will increase the odds of finding the right opportunity for you.

Tom Wolfe, Career Coach, is a nationally recognized expert in military to civilian career transition and the Senior Contributing Editor at Civilian Job News.  He served as a surface warfare officer in the Navy and has provided career guidance to military personnel since 1978. Contact him via e-mail


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