10 Important Tips for Veterans Trying to Make a Good Impression at Job Fairs

(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt Tomora Clark)

Resume in hand? Check. Clean and pressed suit? Check. Ready to go? Maybe not.

Job fairs, also known as career fairs, are more than just opportunities to meet with employers seeking new talent. They are an opportunity to learn, share, promote and grow as you enter the next phase of your career.

For transitioning veterans, this may be the first time you've prepared and presented a resume and the first time you're focused on self-marketing. To set yourself up for success, consider these tips for making a good impression:

1. How do you want to present yourself?

Think through how you want to communicate and act. For instance, you might decide you want to come across as friendly, open-minded and curious. This will guide how you interact with the people you'll meet at the event.

2. Who do you want to meet?

Before going to the event, research who'll be there and who you want to meet. Which companies are you interested in talking to? Who's sponsoring the event? What's the makeup of the applicants and candidates who'll also be participating? Are any guest speakers presenting on topics of interest? Do your intel in advance.

3. What do you know about your target companies?

For the employers you want to meet, learn about their business, goals, vision, history and what they're looking for. Review the company's "careers" page to get a sense of the opportunities they may be recruiting for and who might be on-site to discuss the jobs. Learn all you can in advance, so you're prepared to interact with the recruiters and representatives you'll meet.

4. What do they need to know about you?

You'll have one chance to make a first impression, so consider how you want to come across. Do you want them to know you're qualified, skilled, interested and available for work tomorrow? Do you want them to know you're considering multiple offers and don't have to decide for another month? Think about what information you want them to know about you before you begin to tell them about you.

5. What do they need to feel about you that will set you apart?

What they need to know is only half the battle. Give thought to what they should feel from you so they'll want to talk to you further. If feelings about who you are and what you can offer truly drive how humans make decisions (as many studies indicate), then consider how you'll come across.

The research you've done on the company in advance can give you insights here. You might learn that they're a very collaborative, inclusive and fun company. They'd need to see those qualities in you to believe you'd fit in.

6. Who is your competition?

Who else is going after the positions you're pursuing? Are you competing mostly against other veterans? Civilians? Both? It helps to know who else might be after the same opportunities, so you can refine how you position yourself to be memorable and interesting to the employer.

7. How will you present yourself to be consistent with your answer to #1?

When you are clear about how you want to come across -- and the perception you want to drive -- then choosing what to wear, how to speak and behave and who to network with is easier. Take the time to ensure your "look" is consistent with the impression you want to make.

8. What does your resume need to include?

Instead of adding every single thing you've ever done to your resume, focus on how you want to be seen and what you want to communicate. Leave off your resume information that's superfluous or irrelevant to where you're headed.

If it's not critical to your next employer that you were a lifeguard in high school, save the room on your resume. Similarly, ensure that whichever skills, certifications and training are required for the jobs you're pursuing are prominently featured.

9. Are you giving yourself enough time at the event?

To meet and converse with recruiters adequately, network with other attendees, speakers, sponsors and employers, and be available for impromptu interviews, you don't want to feel rushed. Give yourself enough time to make your time at the event meaningful.

10. Plan your follow-up.

Before you head to the job fair, consider which follow-up tools you'll use: Will you invite your new connections to join you on LinkedIn? Will you hand out business cards and ask for theirs, following up to schedule another conversation? Will you suggest they follow your blog and send them a link? Before meeting someone, plan for how you'll keep the conversation going.

Job fairs can feel overwhelming without a game plan. Be prepared, confident and clear about what you seek and who you are to set yourself up for success and stand out from the competition.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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