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Veteran Transition Timeline: When to Attend Job Fairs

Posted by Bob Wheeler

Engility with service memberIf you’re curious as to how job seekers could possibly get so many different answers to such a basic question like “When should I first attend a job fair,” well the answer lies in the ambiguity of personal circumstance. In this case it’s the circumstances of both the employer and the job seeker.

Some recruiters may take the question to mean, “At what point will you personally, be able to help me get a job?” Others may take it to mean, “At what point will the job fair experience in general provide me with useful information?” At the same time, the original question fails to address the intended outcome. Is it to learn about companies and the hiring process, or is it to secure a new position in the next few months? These ambiguities lead to confusion and assumptions, which in turn becomes a giant buffet of advice.

The truth is there are no silver bullets and very few generic statements that apply across the board. This is also because not all job fairs are the same and not all employers needs and hiring practices are the same. In the end, the biggest hurdle is to ensure that the job fair you attend has employers and jobs that are looking for your particular skills. This is one of the primary reasons Cleared Job Fairs have proven to be successful events based on 10 years of feedback from employers and job seekers alike.

Once a job seeker identifies the right niche events for their skill set and security clearance it becomes easier to determine which advice is relevant to your situation.

Here then, are some tips as it pertains to when to attend niche events like our Cleared Job Fairs and what to do while you’re there.

More Than A Year From Transition

For many veterans, attending a job fair is the first proactive step they take after finally admitting to themselves that they are at least considering leaving the service. The nice thing about doing this a year or more out is that there is remarkably less pressure.

It’s OK if you walk out of the event feeling about as lost as you did on the first day of boot camp or Officer Candidate School. No matter how much you accomplish — or don’t accomplish — you’re still getting paid on the 1st and the 15th.

More importantly, you’ll establish a baseline about where you are professionally and what you need to do going forward. Attending job fairs a year prior to your separation date really could be the most important few hours of your transition, assuming you take the necessary follow on steps.

Here are some things you should do:

  • Find out who does what. Taking a look at who’s in attendance you’ll probably see some of the big names you’ve heard of already, but you’ll also see a number of smaller companies that are new names to you. For many job seekers this is the first realization of just how many opportunities there are in the world of government contracting.

It’s always amazing to me when a job seeker assumes that just because they’ve never heard of a company that they probably aren’t worth their time. The smaller the company, the more of an investment a job fair represents in terms of both time to attend, as well as cost. These folks are here because they want to grow.

If you didn’t do so before the job fair, once you get home see which companies are active on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and follow them. This way you’ll keep up with who’s winning contracts, who’s looking for what kinds of skills, and even more important, you may discover the names of key individuals like recruiters and program managers.

  • Talk to everyone. This includes other job seekers. Especially when you’re still a year out, the guy or gal next to you isn’t really your “competition” and in many cases they may have some very good advice for you. Another thing to consider – the more you actually speak to live people at a fair, the more comfortable you’ll get. Get past the jitters early.
  • Take part in the Extras. ClearedJob Fairs feature resume review services offered by leading HR experts. On other occasions there may be programs such as recruiter roundtable discussions or presentations on security clearances to help job seekers understand the hiring landscape. Taking advantage of these opportunities early in your transition means you’ll be more likely to capitalize on opportunities as they present themselves in the future, and the less likely you’ll be to be mistakes.
  • Notice the event flow. Lots of people at the beginning means longer lines. Around lunchtime employers split time at the booth so they can get lunch. The last hour is less crowded which may mean longer conversations are available.
  • Notice who’s wearing what. While it’s permissible to attend a job fair in uniform, take a look at what everyone else is wearing and which job seekers are polished and professional. As you move forward a suit and tie become more important. You may need to pick up some new shoes (or more) before you get too deep in the transition process.

Six Months to Three Months Out

Your goal now is to find out not just who does what, but who does what and also needs your particular skills to do it.

While it’s still unlikely that you’ll get a direct job offer it’s not impossible depending upon on your skill set. So at this point you should be both realistic as well as prepared.

Each Cleared Job Fair has a list of companies that will be attending each event and about a week prior you’ll be able to see the positions they will be seeking to fill. So by this time you should be doing at least that much research ahead of time.

The key thing to remember here is that since these are the positions that the company has an immediate need to fill this means that in all likelihood the recruiter on the other side of the table has some pretty direct knowledge of that particular program. In many cases they will also bring someone from the operational side of the house as well. These are the folks you really want to connect with.

At this point of your transition you should:

  • Ask about the future of the program, not just the company. Any current contracts being bid on? Any that you hope to win in the near future? Are the positions they are looking for now regular needs or just at this time?
  • Ask about critical skills. Are there specific things that the programs require or make for a “preferred candidate” such as college degrees, certifications, etc.
  • Ask about the best way to learn more about the company. Do they have any open houses coming up? Is it possible to get an informational interview and if so, what’s the best way to approach someone.

Hint: It’s much easier to get an informational interview well before you leave active duty as the other person won’t assume you’ll be there “begging for a job.”

  • Personal follow up is now important. In the past the goal was to identify companies to follow, and that should continue. But once you get to about the six month mark you should also begin to proactively make connections with individuals such as recruiters.

Ask if they are on LinkedIn and if so, would they mind a connection request? This way you’ll continue to see any updates they may post about other jobs over the next few months.

If they offer you a card be sure to send them a short, professional, “Thank You For Your Time” email mentioning the event you met them at and the jobs that you spoke about.

Hint: Wait about two or three business days to do this. While this person was at the fair, their inbox was getting filled with other tasks. Give them a couple of days to dig out to increase the likelihood your message gets read.

Less than 90 Days from Transition or Already Out of the Service

At this stage of the game your targets are those companies that have current needs for your skills at this time. We’ve talked a bit before about the costs in both time and money for these companies to attend a job fair. Assuming you took a look a look at the companies that will be there and the jobs they’re looking to fill, this should be a target rich environment.

If you’ve been taking the steps outlined earlier over the past year it will certainly make it easier at this point. In any event once you’re “in the window” you’ll want to make sure that you’re well prepared to attend, that you’re both specific and intentional in your actions. In short you need to be on your game.

Actions you can take at this point include:

  • Learn the jobs. Review not only the titles of the jobs listed on the event website, but also take a look at the full position description on their company website for details. This way you can talk in specifics with the recruiter/hiring manager.
  • Ask questions about the specifics of the job. Which department does it fall under? How soon are they looking to fill it? Which skills are critical vs nice to have? This way you can be sure to highlight those points on the resume you use for that specific application.
  • Be polite, but get all the answers you need. If your conversation is early in the event some recruiters may be hesitant to engage a single person for a long period of time at the expense of talking to other job seekers. In that case you may want to stop back by the booth later during the event when things slow down to continue you conversation. Especially if it looks like it’s a position you’re well suited for.
  • Ask how to apply. Contractors require all applications to be submitted through their website or through ClearedJobs.Net for government compliance purposes. Ask questions about the best way to do that such as whether word documents do better than PDFs. You can also ask about the rest of the hiring process such as whether or not they prefer cover letters, typical response times, number and types of interviews, etc.
  • Apply the way the tell you, then follow up. If the recruiter gives you their direct contact information make sure you follow up as soon as you complete the online application. Remind them when and where you met and reference the position number/title that you just applied for.

ClearedJobs.Net hosts three types of niche job fairs: Cleared Job Fairs for all clearance levels, CI or FS Poly-Only Cleared Job Fairs for professionals with current polygraphs, and Cyber Job Fairs for professionals with cybersecurity education or experience. In all instances the goal is the same — to put the right job seekers in the same room as companies that have needs involving the same skills and clearance levels.

The fact that these events are not the generic cattle call of other job fairs means that you’ll see more genuine interaction between employers and job seekers which in turn means there’s a greater chance to create real relationships which is the key to a successful transition. Beginning this process sooner, rather than later, is what leads to exponential results.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 04, 2016 8:45 am

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