Transitioning into a civilian career after spending years in the military is no easy feat. With nearly 250,000 veterans separating from the military annually, it’s no wonder that so many don’t know where to begin with their civilian careers. For those looking to kickstart the career transition process, veteran job fairs can help get a foot in the door at companies that are looking to add talented military veterans to their teams.
However, finding employment through a career fair isn’t as easy as showing up and speaking with recruiters. Only with ample preparation and the right know-how will you be able to make a good impression on potential employers, discover new job opportunities, and apply for open positions.
Here are a few ways to make the most out of a veteran job fair:
1. Choose the right career fair.
Contrary to popular belief, no two veteran career fairs are alike. Hence, you’ll need to conduct some research to determine which ones will be the most beneficial to your career goals and which to skip. You wouldn’t want to spend time preparing for a career fair only to find few employers in attendance. Reputable veteran career fair organizers tend to have the largest volume of quality employers.
Quality and quantity aren’t the only factors you should take into account when choosing a veteran job fair. Thousands of these events take place across the globe annually, but not all of them will be right for you. For instance, you shouldn’t go to career fairs that take place outside of your geographic focus. You should also look for events that are centered on your area of expertise or training. Sites like Military.com and MilitaryTimes Reboot Camp are great resources to help you begin your search for career fairs that will provide you with the best career opportunities.
2. Prepare accordingly.
You can’t expect success from a veteran career fair if you don’t spend time preparing for it. When gearing up for one of these events, you should take the time to compile a resume that accurately reflects all your skills, knowledge, and experience from your time in the military. Bring at least 20 copies of your resume to ensure that you’ll have enough to distribute to recruiters. You may even need more than one version of your resume depending on the career options and organizations you’re considering.
Moreover, your career fair preparations should involve a deep dive into the various companies that will be in attendance. Do your research and learn everything you can about them and the positions that they have available. You’ll only have a few minutes to chat with each recruiter, so you want to go into each interaction with as much information as possible. This will make it easier to find employers that can benefit from your skills.
3. Look the part.
Veteran job fairs aren’t formal, but they are still professional events that require a certain type of attire. At career fairs, you’ll be meeting representatives from employers that may hire you in the future. These recruiters take into account more than your skills and experience. Your appearance will affect their opinion of you and whether they think you would make a good addition to the company. Showing up like you’re dressed for a day at the park is likely to make a bad first impression.
Business attire is the most appropriate choice when dressing for a career fair. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a career in an industry known for its more casual dress; looking the part during your first contact with recruiters could mean the difference between landing an interview and being overlooked.
4. Know your goals.
As a military veteran, you understand better than most how to set and work toward goals. This is a skill that you should bring to your civilian career search. You should never walk into a career fair until you’ve outlined your objectives for the event. Recruiters will be able to tell if you’re someone attending a career fair without a plan.
When attending a veteran job fair, your primary goal should be to garner interest from the organizations you’d like to join. Many veterans go in to these events with the expectation that they will walk away with a job offer, but few companies extend those during career fairs. Think of these events as a first interview. You want to make as good a first impression as possible and, ideally, secure another interview after the fair.
5. Assess how it went after the fact.
As a military veteran, you’re likely familiar with the after-action review (AAR). You should use this process to look at the results of each job fair you attend. Did you make new contacts or secure new job leads? Did you get a follow-up interview with any employer? Have you learned anything new about the line of work you’d like to pursue? Your answers to these questions will help you determine what to do differently the next time to improve your career prospects.