You have figured out what work you are seeking following your service. You have a resume you hope is about right. Is it worth your time to attend any job fairs? Or should you focus solely on other job search methods?

Job fairs can play an important part in your job search. They offer you a way to learn more about your target market and employers quickly. Here you can meet company representatives with whom you can build a connection over time. They are good practice for networking and elevator speeches and meeting employers. But you need to learn to use job fairs effectively.

Tip 1. Bigger is not always better.
Often the smartest move you can make is to attend a niche job fair. This might be one focusing on the career you seek: cybersecurity, sales, manufacturing, logistics. Or it might be one, like job fairs, focused solely on jobs requiring security clearances if you want a job in the government contracting area. Those put on by a professional group in your field, locally or at a convention, like, are also smart . Ask your connections for suggestions on relevant job fairs! At these fairs, you will meet employers who are looking for your skills and experiences, who hire people in your field at various levels.   Job fairs focused on military in transition range from quite useful to largely focused on only junior enlisted or junior officers. Check them out carefully before you go.

Large, more general job fairs often have only 1-2 employers who might have positions in your field. Many companies at general job fairs are primarily looking for entry level candidates or even are just being a good corporate ‘citizen’ by attending. Check their reputation and participating employers before you go.

Tip 2. Be prepared.
Investigate which employers will be there and what positions they are seeking to fill. Top job fairs provide this information on their websites or via social media in advance. Ideally this will include some of your target employers. Once you know all the employers attending, look at their websites and see if they interest you and have the work you seek. Be ready to talk to each one that has work of interest and try to tailor your comments to their openings.
Be sure to see if the job fair is offering any seminars or other services which can help you in your job search. If so, plan your time so you can take advantage of these.

Recruiters and hiring managers at job fairs see a lot of people in a short time. Be quick to state your field of interest and 1-2 highlights of your experience as it relates to their needs. This makes you look like a ‘live one’ – someone of interest. Most have very specific positions they are trying to fill, don’t waste much of your time or theirs asking about positions in other locations or fields from those listed as available, although you can ask for connections there.

Register in advance. Provide your resume when you do since each participating employer will thus get a copy of it. But also take copies of your resume – in a folio or something you can easily handle. You do not want to be fiddling around trying to find your resume instead of speaking with the recruiter. Seems obvious, but it is a common mistake. Be prepared for government contractors, public agencies, and some other organizations to tell you to apply online instead: most do this to comply with legal reporting requirements.

Once there, connect with your top 3-4 targets first and then talk with any others you think may be of interest. At heavily attended job fairs, the lines can get long and you want to maximize your time by meeting the best matches first.

Dress for success. If the event is on your installation during duty hours, you might go in uniform. But otherwise, dress for the job you want. Normal business attire is always smart for professional and managerial jobs. Business casual is fine for many technician and skilled jobs. Looking sloppy makes hiring managers and recruiters think your work will be too.  Short of showing up in a ball-gown or tuxedo, you can’t overdress. First impressions do count in job search and job fairs.

Tip 3. Talk with other attendees
Job fairs offer you a chance to learn more about the market, employment trends, and even specific employers from other attendees. Talk to people in line for coffee, at any seminars that are offered, and even in lines for an employer. OK, I know you are not comfortable doing this – but you are a military member, used to talking to people you do not know. And they are not comfortable either – so take the initiative! Say hi, ask what they are looking for, learn about their work, and see what connections you can make. Just begin a conversation and see what happens. Your goal is to learn more about the wide range of private sector options and maybe even build your network. Yes, I do know people who got a job via someone they originally met at a job fair!

Do your preparation and homework and job fairs become a valuable part of your job search.  Not so much otherwise.