5 Things You Need To Know Before You Walk Into A Job Fair

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Job-seeking veterans and service members speak with a prospective employer at a job fair at Nationals Park on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012.
Larry French/AP Images for National Chamber Foundation

In early 2014, I transitioned out of the military and into the private sector. My transition was recent enough that I remember how daunting and intimidating the transition process can be.


One of the most intimidating parts of this transition is finding employment in an area that you are interested in. The first step to securing a job with any organization is making it through the initial screening process. Now that I attend hiring conferences and job fairs on a regular basis, I have seen many intelligent, highly qualified candidates be shuffled aside as a result of a few basic mistakes. A hiring conference or job fair is designed to screen candidates for follow-on interviews, some pre-arranged and others that are conducted on the spot. You need to be aware of some of the basic things you can do to ensure you don’t eliminate yourself from the talent pool.

1. Use first names.

In this transition process, you will have to learn to embrace a new culture, a culture very different than that of the military. One of the more distinct social norms of military culture is the standardized use of last names. While your potential employer values your experience, they also value your ability to adapt and become part of the company culture, which includes using first names and not addressing everyone you meet as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” In the corporate world you will use first names for everyone, including your immediate supervisor and your CEO. So start using them now as you interact with civilians and corporate recruiters alike. You want to demonstrate that you can also use some of the soft skillsets to influence an organization where you cannot order anyone to do anything, so smile. The tough, stern facade that used to help you accomplish your mission may actually work against you in these hiring situations.

Related: 6 mistakes you might not realize you’re making at work »

2. Show up prepared.

Preparation is important, bottom line. Plan out your wardrobe, your two to three minute introductory pitch selling yourself, and research the companies and industries you are most excited about. Remember, this hiring event is designed to present a large number of veteran candidates to potential employers in a short period of time. Identify companies that you are interested in and do your research. For many recruiters and screeners, nothing is more irritating than having a candidate walk up to you and say, “I am interested in your company, please tell me what you are all about.” Remember, this is a screening event, and likely the first step in a series of interviews. Present yourself and your skillsets to the recruiters. Illustrate how you would be a valuable addition to their organization. If you know certain companies that you are interested in, do your research. Even better, come prepared with specific job postings in hand and a resume crafted to show that you are the perfect fit for those positions. With this research at hand, you can enter the screening process with confidence.

3. Be confident, without being arrogant.

Confidence is essential in giving a great first impression. Confidence reinforces the idea that you are willing and able to learn in a new environment and that you are going to embrace the challenges that lie ahead in your transition. It is very important that you not let this confidence come off as arrogance. There is a good chance that the people doing the initial screening are veteran, and if they perceive your confidence as arrogance, they will likely see this as a sense of entitlement and quickly move on to the next candidate.

4. Be yourself, not your rank.

Your service and experience is greatly valued, which is why these organizations spend large amounts of resources coordinating and planning for these hiring events. Once you are at the hiring event, your rank or title no longer matters. You need to demonstrate exactly how your experience in the military, along with your unique skillsets, have allowed you to achieve that rank or title, and how these same skillsets will allow you to be successful in this new organization. In portraying these skill sets, it is important to be authentic, not what you think the company is looking for. You may be in this for the long haul, and if so, you want to find an organization that you value, and that will value you. If you present something that is not authentic, you run the risk of taking a role you won’t be happy with or successful in. Do not seek out titles, seek out roles. It is far more important for you to find the spot that fits you than the title you may think you deserve.

5. Get the resume right.

Great, so you have made it past the initial screening, and you have given them a resume to review. Either that resume reinforces the great impression you have already made, or it derails the entire process. This resume is now speaking on your behalf as recruiters filter through the overwhelming amount of qualified candidates. Ensure that it represents you well by verifying it is accurate, up to date, and without typos. Although the military encouraged, and may have even give you training to operate independently and be self-reliant, this is not the time to use that training. There are thousands of articles available that walk through the art of resume writing. Use these along with any resources you have in the private sector to proofread and perfect your resume.

Remember, with a little preparation and humility you can demonstrate to these organizations that you are willing to learn in a new environment, adapt to new situations, and overcome the challenges you face during your transition. Do not be afraid to go after that dream job or dream organization. No matter how well organized the people on the other side of the interviewing table appear to be, they probably were in the exact same situation as you not too long ago.

For more information on nailing a military hiring conference, or job fair, check out these tips from Hirepurpose. >>

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