Why Job Seeking Veterans Should Attend Career Fairs Posted August 13, 2014 by Abby Reynolds

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Job seekers will do whatever it takes to find meaningful employment with a decent salary--except attend the career fair hitting town this weekend. Or the weekend after that.

Despite their rise in popularity among employers, career fairs have been written off by many job seekers as a waste of valuable time. Why spend half the day in line waiting to network with employers, only to be directed to the company's online application?

No doubt, career fairs can be frustrating and seemingly pointless experiences. However, job seekers receive many advantages by attending, even if they leave without any interview offers. If you're a veteran in the market for a new career, think twice about that job fair coming to town. The following list identifies the not-so-obvious benefits you could gain by attending:

1. Networking opportunities

It's common knowledge that job fairs are great opportunities to network with professionals in your field of interest (even if you have to wait in line to meet them). In fact, they're probably the most straightforward type of networking event: you're there either looking to hire or get hired.

What's less obvious is that you should be networking with the other job seekers, especially those who share your career interests. They may have insights into companies you're unfamiliar with, know of other job openings, or may even connect you with helpful contacts. If you're switching career fields or have just separated from the military, other job seekers with industry experience may give useful advice on how to be successful in your career. At your next career fair, take notice of  the job seekers visiting the same tables as you and make an effort to start a conversation with them. You'd be surprised at the value one discussion can add to your job search.

2. Learning Opportunities

Career fairs are excellent learning opportunities, especially if you're unfamiliar with civilian hiring practices. Unsure of what to wear to an interview? This article posted by choicecareers.com suggests you take notes on how other job seekers in the room are dressed, the materials they carry with them (resumes, business cards, pens), as well as their body language when speaking to company representatives. Curious about what to discuss with employers? Listen to what your peers say. What questions do they ask? What tone of voice do they use? How do they talk about their interests and experiences? Walk the room a few times and take in the conversations around you. You'll be less nervous about approaching employers once you see how it's done.

Career fairs also serve as great interview practice. At each table you visit, employers will ask you questions about your career goals, your background, and your interests, which you'll have to talk about in future interviews. By attending a career fair, you'll grow accustomed to talking about yourself in a professional setting, as well as answering questions on the spot.

3. Discover your niche

Many transitioning veterans struggle with figuring out their next career move, and while the internet offers a wealth of information, it's more beneficial to actually speak with someone in the field you're considering. By attending a career fair, you'll have access to hundreds of professionals from a variety of industries eager to talk about their company. Let them know up front you're a veteran searching for a new, meaningful career. Not only will they be happy to answer your questions, but they can give insider advice you won't find online. You'll have the added benefit of speaking to employers and gathering information without the pressure of an interview situation. However, be sure to act and speak professionally, as you never know when a promising employment opportunity will pop up.

If you already know the industry you'd like to break into and would prefer to skip the career fairs geared toward the masses, check with your local professional associations to see if they're hosting any upcoming career fairs or events. According to About.com, such organizations are known for putting on career fairs specific to their industry.

4. Gain the upper-hand

If for no other reason, job seekers should attend career fairs because they can gain a major advantage over the applicants who stay home. Even though it's frustrating to be told to submit an online application after hours of networking with employers (expect this because most companies require it), if you impress the hiring managers, they'll remember you and move your name to the top of the candidate list. It's not unusual for companies to receive hundreds of applications and resumes, sometimes for just one position, and hiring managers appreciate candidates who take the initiative to learn more about their company. Most job seekers aren't aware of this, but hiring managers will also take notes on the candidates they want to see again, as well as the ones who are a poor fit for their company. Some will even take notes on your resume as soon as you move on from their table.

Additionally, a company representative will give you more in-depth information about the job opening and their organization than a website. A posting you saw online may not turn out to be what you thought it was, while an industry you never considered might be your ideal career. At the very least, you'll leave a career fair more informed about your options.

Attending a career fair is one of the best things you can do to improve your professional skills and to help narrow your interests during the job search--and it's a free resource! Military Veterans Resource Center will be hosting several career fairs this fall featuring employers from a variety of industries across the state. Stay tuned as details will be posted on our website closer to the events.