Doing Just A Little Preparation Can Give You Outsized Results At A Job Fair

4 Tips To Rise Above The Crowd

Job fairs are generally crap shoots for everyone involved, mainly because everyone treats the event that way. On the one side, representatives of companies have laundry lists of positions to fill, and hope to find a handful of qualified candidates while promoting their employers. On the other side are fair-goers ranging from soon-to-be civilians to treasure hunting swag-collectors.


In a survey by CareerXroads of the 250 largest companies in the US, only 1.4% of them made hires from these events*. If you are about to transition to a new career and actually want to find opportunities to pursue at one of these job fairs, you have to distinguish yourself from the crowd. It doesn’t take much — a little preparation and a better presentation go a long way. I recently talked to a veteran about his experience and how he found success at these events. The following tips are easy to do, yet are frequently unpracticed. #3 is especially golden.


1. Treat the process like an interview. 

Don’t let your main focus be on grabbing sweet swag like pens and tote bags. You're a grown man/woman. You don’t need more tote bags. You need a job. Dress in the civilian equivalent of a uniform - conservative suit with tie. You may be overdressed compared to most other people there, but you are sending a signal to employers that you are a professional. It shows that you can look the part — and this is more critical than you’d expect at a job fair. Let them picture you in the role. Your digicam uniform doesn’t always allow for that. I‘ve had friends who were immediately interviewed because they looked the part. Never forget how important this impression can be in a sea of similar faces. 


2. Have your documents ready. 

In keeping with the above, have your resume ready. Print it on quality stock paper, not the printer paper from your admin shop. You don’t need a business card, but make sure you can exchange information if you are interested. You can have it in your resume or you can prepare a cover letter that talks a little about you, your experience, and your interests in a career after the military. Get their information so that you can follow up with an e-mail or on LinkedIn.


3. Do the work for the recruiter. 

Most employers at a job fair have a list of positions to fill. This is a general search for them, not a specific one. Think of how long their day must be, explaining to people the company, and the potential jobs available, and then assessing whether or not the person they are talking to would be a fit for any of those positions. How awesome would it be if you all ready researched the company, and found a position that you are interested in and are a good fit for, and then started the application process for it? Well, you CAN do this. Find out which companies will be attending the job fair. Look up the companies you have interest in, online, and see if they have an application process. Submit your application. When you meet the recruiter from this company at the fair, provide them the application and your resume again, and use this opportunity to tell them why you’re interested and a good fit. The fact that you all ready applied demonstrates your seriousness, professionalism, and initiative. 


4. Practice your pitch. 

You’d be surprised at how difficult it is to describe yourself in a few sentences. You want to make it clear and to the point what your skills, interests, and relevant experiences are pertaining to a particular job. Get this 30 second elevator speech down before you go to the job fair. There are quite a few resources online on how to craft one, so I won’t go into it here. Just make sure that you test it with friends and family to get feedback. What you want to clear up is anything that might be unclear (military jargon, acronyms) or uninteresting (skilled at Microsoft Excel? ZZZZZZ).


You shouldn’t be worried that companies do so little hiring at job fairs. Take a look around at the next one you find yourself in and see how few people do the things above. What you should feel is confidence. When everyone else is playing for fun, you’ll be playing for keeps. This is what sets apart the professionals from the amateurs.

*Source of Hire Reports 2014, CareerXroads, Gerry Crispin & Mark Mehler,, publ. September 2014

Do you have any more tips that work at a job fairs? Put'em in the comments below

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