When and How to Use Job Fairs in Your Military Transition

Posted by Bob Wheeler
military transition

Whether you’ve been in the military for four years or 30 years, transitioning can be scary. But there’s a good life waiting for you on the other side that includes new career opportunities.

Cleared Job Fairs can be a terrific tool to get you out of your military bubble, have some real civilian conversations, and get in the right frame of mind for a successful transition and cleared job search. Read on to find out when to attend, what to wear, and how to make the most of job fairs during your military transition.

When to Start Attending Job Fairs

This is one of those questions that I get all of the time – when should I start attending? A year out, before you get to your End of Active Service (EAS), you should be going to job fairs. Maybe even 15 months out if it’s a good one.

There are a few reasons to attend early. For one, it’s a psychological first step. When you go to a job fair, you’ve really admitted to yourself that you’re getting out – it reminds you that it’s real.

Also, when you go early, mistakes don’t cost you much. If you stub your toe, say something stupid, get lost or you’re not prepared – whatever the case may be – you’re still a year out. You can learn from the mistakes that you might make.

There’s also a lot of gap analysis that can happen. When you go to a job fair, talk to people and ask questions, you find out the things you didn’t know that you didn’t know. Then you can apply that knowledge to the next time you go to a job fair.

So one year out from your EAS, you should start going. By six months from your EAS, really start to focus on making connections. Connections with companies, recruiters, and program managers are important. At this point, you want to be a little bit more attentive and have some better conversations that you follow up on afterwards.

Forming connections with recruiters and following up with them is crucial. Recruiters move around a lot, and they like to bring their connections with them. So if you make a connection with a recruiter at a job fair and four months later they move to another company, you’ve now got a connection to a new employer too.

Now, three months out from your EAS is when you can really start talking about specific positions. Three months out, they start looking at you as a real fit for a position, because they can anticipate when you’re going to be out.

Remember, they’re not going to hold a job for you, or gap a billet, as we say in the military. In the outside world it’s all about profit and loss. If somebody’s not doing the job, they’re not making the money to keep the company going. So that’s why about 90 days out, is when you will start to see a response when you say, “Hey, I’m interested in this specific position,” and you’ll get a legitimate discussion.

So a year out, it’s a psychological first step. Six months out, you’re starting to make connections. And by three months out, you’re talking about specific positions.

What to Wear

You can wear a uniform of the day if it’s a job fair on base. Especially if you’re going to pop over at lunchtime, you can 100% wear a uniform. You can even wear your military uniform off base if you have to, but I would only do it if you don’t have another option. But at the end of the day, it’s better to be there in uniform than to not be there at all.

If you can, appropriate business attire is preferred. Even that being said, suits nowadays aren’t mandatory. They’re not bad – I certainly see a lot of people wearing suits at job fairs. The more senior the position you’re looking for, the more important a suit is. The biggest piece here is, look like you planned on being there.

How to Prepare for Conversations with Employers

Before the event, review the companies that are going to be there. At our Cleared Job Fairs, we list the companies who are going to be there, some of their job openings, and a little information about the employer. Take advantage of this. Look at those companies and go to their websites. One of the real values of a job fair is, you’ll see companies that you’ve heard of, but also a lot of companies you’ve never heard of.

When you’re talking to these recruiters, the worst question you can ask is, what does your company do? That’s not the question you want to lead with. It’s much better to say, “I looked at your website and I see that you guys do XYZ…” That shows that you actually care and you’ve done some homework. It really sets you apart from the person that just says, “What can you do for me?”

Also think about the version of your resume you’re going to bring. When you go through your transition class, you’re going to hear all about how you need to have a resume that’s specific to a job. That’s 100% true – you’re going to need that eventually. But when it comes to a job fair resume (also job board resumes), you don’t know exactly what position you’re going to be talking about.

So at this point, you want to have a more general resume, but you definitely want to keep it in line with what you’re looking for. And up in that summary section, indicate your expected transition date – that’s an important piece of information you want them to have.

Make the Most of Each Job Fair

There’s often extra events or services that you can take advantage of at job fairs. At ClearedJobs.Net, we offer free resume reviews at most Cleared Job Fairs. That’s a great resource, especially if you’re a year out and haven’t been to transition class yet.

Maximize these opportunities and squeeze as much information out as you can from them. Talk to as many employers as possible. We mentioned preparing by looking at which employers are attending. I would actually go to the people that you want to talk to the most last. Go to some of the other companies that probably don’t fit your bill to shake the rust off and get comfortable.

Also, when you talk to people, don’t monopolize the recruiters’ time. I see this a lot where somebody might start talking and they don’t realize there’s a line of people behind them. So if there’s a long line behind you, have a quick conversation. Pace yourself. You can come in and out, get a drink or snack, and go back in later. If you do want to have a longer conversation, do that a little more towards the end. Most job fairs have a big rush of people when they first start, and that’s when those recruiters are having to just churn through all their conversations.

By the end, things are really starting to calm down. If you see somebody you had a quick conversation with earlier, maybe go back and talk to them again when things have slowed down. You can say, “I just had a couple other questions.” You can get a lot more information at the end of a job fair often, because they’ve got the time. So respecting their time without trying to monopolize it can be the most important part of really getting the most out of your conversations.

Follow Up After the Event

You went, you had a great time, and you talked to lots of people. What are you going to do afterwards? If anybody gave you a business card, reach out to them via email and say thank you. If you use LinkedIn, find as many people as you can on LinkedIn too.

Here’s something else important about job fairs—sometimes you’ll talk to the recruiters and they’ll say you need to apply online. That’s not always them brushing you off. Government contractors are very specific about how they can take an application, because they’ve got to account for everything. All applications have to go through the online process, so if they tell you to go back and apply online, go ahead and do it.

But when you’re done, send them an email and mention, “I applied for that program manager position that we talked about,” etc. The reason you want to do that is, they’re going to go back and look, and they’re going to make sure you applied for the right job. They’re going to help kind of shepherd your application along.

You also want to use a targeted resume at this point, because you had that general resume for the job fair. Now that you’re applying for a specific position, you can email the recruiter and say, “Here’s the resume I put together specific to that program manager job,” or whatever the case may be.

So whether you’re a year out or coming up to your terminal leave date shortly, get out there and start taking advantage of the opportunities that Cleared Job Fairs have to offer. Start having civilian career conversations, network with recruiters, and get your resume in front of employers. Whether you get a job offer or just start putting yourself out there, you’ll get your job search moving and benefit your transition.


This entry was posted on Monday, May 08, 2023 7:51 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation