- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

A dozen steps to military job fair success

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Northern California College of Construction

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Military to Civilian TransitionPicture 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. You can maximize your odds of success at a military job fair by keeping many things in mind, and here are the 12 most important points:

1. Be selective

Thousands of job fairs in hundreds of cities are held 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, I strongly recommend a military job fair like those sponsored by the publisher of this newspaper. The company’s 2012-2014 calendar of job fairs can be found online at

2. Be realistic

Understand your objective. It is not to land a job on the spot, as companies rarely extend job offers during a job fair. The job fair interview is just the first step—a door opener. A more reasonable target outcome is to seek a second interview with a company. Your goal is to generate further interest in you 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, determine 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 a company and a position, research you. You need to know what you bring to the table that is relevant to a particular job or company objective. Also, make sure you have sufficient copies of your resume to support your activity.

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. A military job fair held on or near military installations will often allow the uniform of the day 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

Dozens of companies will be in attendance; not all of them are appropriate for you. Select the ones that interest you and prioritize your list. Balance your priority list against the length of the line at that booth or table. Decide whether to jockey for position at the front of the line or to go back later in the day when the line is shorter or perhaps when there is no line.

6. Be patient

Expect to spend some time standing in line. Job seekers almost always outnumber the 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 representative will meet during the military 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, it is normal for you should to be a bit nervous, especially if you are new to this type of event; however, you want to 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 recruiters/interviewers see you in the job, but also to like you enough to want to help you. Establishing and building empathy will increase your odds. You want these people 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 being filled? 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, a more important one is this: 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, as engaging in follow-up activity can help you stand out. Sending an email that expresses your 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 you 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 by sharing your feedback and results. Better yet, if that fair led to your new job, make sure to thank the sponsoring group for the assistance.


Tom Wolfe is contributing editor & columnist for Civilian Job News and author of ‘Out Of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.’


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