Veteran recruiters at job fairs are there for a particular purpose: they are looking for transitioning military to hire. Not only are they interested in seeking individuals who are motivated and qualified to fill a position, but they are also looking for veterans who can fit with the company's culture and professional setting. The event requires a lot of interaction and may be hectic or confusing. Even NCOs and seasoned officers often make mistakes that cost them a callback opportunity. Here, we will review some tips that will help make your experience in job fairs more productive and effective.
In our previous post on Tips on Writing Cover Letters, we emphasized the importance of "doing your homework" on the company that you are applying for.
One of the most important things about the entire application process is that the process starts before you even speak to any of the recruiters that have their booths set up at the fair. Before attending the actual fair, you should do the following as part of your pre-fair homework:
- Make sure to review the list of all the vendors, companies, and other organizations that are going to be at the fair. Some companies may even list the types of open positions they would like to fill way in advance.
- Create a list of all the "target companies," or companies that specifically pique your interest.
- Research those target companies and other ones that you would like to talk to before going to the fair. Go online and try to cultivate an understanding for the company, its daily operation, and its culture. Try to see how your experiences and your skills would match with what the company is looking for.
- Make sure you have enough of an understanding of the company so you can ask the veteran recruiter appropriate questions and to get relevant responses.
- Arrive early. Don't show up to the last 15 minutes of the fair and expect to see all the companies there. Some companies have come from very far and may start packing up to get to their next destination.
- When you arrive at the job fair, make sure you map out the booths you want to visit first and get to them as soon as you can.
- Find out in advance if the fair offers mini-workshops or career coaching opportunities. These may be worth exploring if you are interested, but make sure you schedule these in advance and see how they fall with your day's itinerary so you do not sacrifice valuable time for something you do not think is worth the interaction with the recruiters you want to speak with.
- Consider the smaller companies. You should try to include some of the smaller companies in your target list and start off with them. Job fairs tend to be a very costly investment of both time and money. If a smaller company is willing to make that investment, chances are that they are actively seeking a veteran to fill the position that they need to fill. There may also be a chance that the person in charge of making the final hiring decisions will be present at the booth! So take advantage of this.
- Try to go to the booths by yourself. If you run into acquaintances or went to the fair with a group of your friends, explain that you have a particular route and you are going to be hitting a specific list of companies that interest you. Generally, you want to interact with the recruiters in a way that gives them a personal and positive impression, so going to the booths can be of great benefit to you and the relationship you build with those you speak to.
#2 Resumés and Notepad
If you've read our previous post about writing an effective and informative resumé, then you should have your resumés ready to go. If not, we suggest you review some of the general tips we've outlined in the post and make sure that your resumé looks ready and printable.
Hard Copies: Print about 25-40 copies of your resumés, depending on how many companies are on your target list and making enough to give to non-target veteran recruiters that you spoke along the way. Put them in a professional folder or small briefcase.
Soft Copies: If you can register for the job fair online and in advance, you might also be able to submit your resumé online as well. Double-check with the job fair website to see if this is a feature that you can use. Also, if possible, bring a USB flash drive with your electronic copy (removing any irrelevant and unprofessional documents that may have been stored on the flash drive). Some of the booths may take electronic copies of your resumé and relevant documents, so having a flash drive handy may save you a couple minutes and can show the recruiters that you came prepared.
Targeted Resumés: You may also want to make some specific resumés that target a specific industry. For example, you may want to have master copies of your resumé that detail the broad experiences and skills you possess. But if you are looking to tailor your resumé for a specific industry such as technology, you might want to have a few resumés with more of your tech experiences/skills to distribute to the tech companies you're interested in speaking to.
Also bring a notepad and a pen. Jot down some notes of the things the recruiter said during the conversation that you might want to use when you write a cover letter to send to a hiring manager. (See our previous post for more details regarding this). At the end of the day, when you go to your e-mail contacts to send thank you e-mails to the people you've spoke to during the fair, the notes you took will help you remember the specific details that you might want to include in the e-mail to make your message more sincere and personalized.
You may have heard of the common saying "Dress how you want to be addressed" or "Dress for the job you want, not the job you have." You might want to keep your uniform back at home when you go to the fair. There are a couple of things to consider when making this decision.
- Remember, your employers want to see how you'd fit in with the company. Veteran recruiters want to envision you as a part of the company, and it is difficult for them to do that if you are still in your service uniform.
- Your recruiters might also perceive you to be less prepared for transition. Dressing up with an interview-ready suit or the like will communicate with the recruiter that you put more effort in your appearance that you are taking your prospective transition into a professional civilian industry seriously.
- Recruiters remember who came to the fair dressed like they wanted the job. They remember those who came with a polished, refined, and professional look.
- Recruiters who happen to be veterans themselves can gain information that you might not want to communicate simply by looking at your uniform. They may be able to see whether you're retiring or how much you get with your current salary. This may not be the type of information you want to accidentally tell your recruiters, especially to those who may feel that they don't want to hire someone who may not settle for a lower salary for the initial stages of work before giving you a raise.
#4 Attitude, Presentation, Delivery
Your recruiter may have already seen and spoken with 100 of your other fellow service members and veterans. You don't want to be "another applicant."
Your approach should not consist of details that only involve you and your experiences. Do not start the conversation by explaining where you got your degree, your years of service in the military, why the recruiter should be consider you and your application, and by shoving your printed resumé to their face (unless the recruiter wants to see the resumé while you are speaking).
Instead, start with a smile, a strong and confident handshake, and a positive attitude. Introduce yourself by name, and ask for the recruiters'. Ask them what they do for the company (find out if they're recruiters to begin with!) and what they do for the company. After these pleasantries and formalities, sell yourself.
Talk about your experiences, your skills, your past work history, your qualities. Your sales pitch should be about 10-30 seconds long and should acknowledge the skills you have and how they can be useful for the company. (If you did your homework, your skills and what the company needs should align).
At the end of the conversation, ask them for a business card (and give them your resumé if you haven't done so already, but make sure to ask if they would like to see it first). Ask if it's appropriate for you to send them an e-mail to that address. If your conversation went well and you feel like you've made a connection with your recruiter, ask them if they would also like to have an electronic copy of your resumé sent to their e-mail address with a written explanation of some of the more interesting experiences you've had.
Think of business cards as your access to the recruiters' network. Send all the people you've met with personalized e-mails thanking them for the opportunity of speaking with you and offer to meet them in the future to learn more about the company and what you can do for the organization. Most people do not do this. Stand out and go out of your way to send a sincere and genuine thank you e-mail to show that you took the conversation you had with the recruiters seriously.
If you want to go one step beyond, go online to the recruiters' RallyPoint profile or LinkedIn profile and ask if you can connect with them online. Go the extra mile to really show that you have drive and motivation.