JOB FAIR SPECIAL REPORT: What Job Seekers Want to Know
When it comes to putting on high-quality military-to-civilian job fairs, RecruitMilitary has little competition. We have been doing this since 2006, and we have become known as the premium brand in this recruitment niche.
We owe much of our success to being good listeners and good advisers. One of our listening/advice platforms is a series of webinars conducted by Chris Nunn, our director of veteran and community engagement and a veteran of the United States Army; see Chris’s article, “How to Work a RecruitMilitary Webinar”.
During the webinar sessions, job seekers frequently ask Chris a common series of questions; and many of those FAQ’s are about our job fairs. After discussing the webinars with Chris, I concluded that presenting the best of the questions and answering them would help readers of Search & Employ®. A Q&A article would help many active/transitioning/veteran readers understand why they should attend our events; and it would promote more meaningful connections between attendees and employers at the events.
To answer the questions, I assembled a panel of my RecruitMilitary colleagues. These are people we call our event directors or “travelers”. They travel to the city where a job fair will be held – usually a day or so prior to the event. They confirm that all event-oriented logistics and other details are in line, conduct promotional efforts to support the event, and help with the physical set-up of the exhibitor booths.
Before the doors open to begin the job fair, one of the travelers delivers to the assembled job seekers a kick-off speech offering best-practices guidance on how to work the event. During the event, the travelers troubleshoot exhibitor problems and help match job seekers with employers. In many cases, they introduce specific job seekers to selected employers.
On the panel were:
- Adam O’Toole, event director and business development manager and an Army veteran
- Chris Newsome, director, strategy development, and an Army veteran
- Doug Turner, director, military relations, and a Marine Corps veteran
- Rob Arndt, director of sales and government compliance and a Marine Corps veteran
- Robert Walker, vice president, sales, and an Army veteran
I interviewed the panel members separately and assembled the results. Here are their answers:
Do I need a copy of my DD214 at the job fair?
[Note to non-military readers: A DD214 is a DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.]
Adam: No, you do not need it. Some employers may not even know exactly what that is. That being said, a lot of companies now employ veterans to do their veteran recruiting, so it doesn’t hurt to have one on hand. You could bring one for reference, just in case. But I would not hand it out.
Doug: I would bring one copy. Every now and then a company might want to see what, specifically, you did in the military and if you qualify for the positions they have available. Not every company will ask to see it, but some might.
Rob: Since your DD214 has your social security number and a lot of personal information, you definitely want to be careful where you bring it and who you give it to. When you’re doing the onboarding process, it might be requested, but it’s not required at any of our job fairs.
Do I need a cover letter for my resume?
Adam: No, cover letters are designed for a specific opening at a specific company, and you alter the letter to reflect what they are looking for. When you’re at a job fair with 50-plus companies, no one expects you to bring a cover letter. However, if you’ve looked at the exhibitor list ahead of time and have a few specific opportunities at certain companies you’d like to apply to, then you will definitely want to take those cover letters with you.
Chris: When you’re at a career fair, you’re going to be talking to recruiters who are talking to dozens of candidates. A cover letter, in this situation, isn’t really going to help since they just want to get to the “guts” – which is your resume.
Doug: I would not bring a cover letter. The purpose of a cover letter is for a specific job. Just bring your resume to the event.
How do I address the recruiter if I am spouse and not a veteran?
Chris: The recruiters at this event understand that we welcome military spouses. Some recruiters are there specifically looking for spouses. Introduce yourself as a spouse. That’s probably the easiest way to go about it.
Doug: The companies won’t ask if you’re a spouse, so you will probably need to tell them. But just make it part of your introduction or elevator pitch.
Rob: The fact that you are a military spouse will most likely come up naturally in the conversation. For example, if they asked what branch of service you were in, you could tell the recruiter that you are a spouse. But these events are for the spouses, too, so there is nothing to worry about if it comes up.
I have a beard. Should I shave it?
Chris: No, but it should be well groomed. Consider our grooming standards that we had in the military. As a civilian, things are more lax, but you can definitely still apply similar standards to your appearance. It’s 2016, and a lot of executive-level professionals have beards, too. Just as long as it isn’t shaggy or unkempt, you should be fine.
Doug: The recruiters aren’t going to care about your facial hair unless it looks sloppy. If you have a beard, and it’s trimmed and you look sharp, that makes a good first impression.
How should I explain gaps in my employment?
Chris: This is subjective to the individual. Perhaps you have gaps because you were in school or were in a training program. Those are very easy to explain to a recruiter. Perhaps it was because of unemployment. In that case, certainly lead with your best foot forward, and that is to be honest.
Keep in mind, many recruiters will understand that there was a stretch of rampant unemployment, especially among the military/veteran community. If you are currently unemployed, that can actually work to your benefit because hiring you can make your new employer eligible for certain tax benefits.
Doug: If they ask about it, be upfront about it. But I wouldn’t mention it unless it’s brought up by the recruiter.
Robert: Give a clear explanation on why there are gaps and what those gaps were. You may have been deployed, you might have been in school. So just make sure to be specific on what you were doing in that gap time.
Are all of the jobs entry-level?
Adam: No, but some definitely will be. That will just be a conversation to have with the recruiter. It’s easy to find out what jobs the employers have available before you go to an event. To see who will be exhibiting, go to our website. There is a separate page for every event, and all of those pages have exhibitors tabs. Just pick out a company, then look on our job board and check out that company’s job portal and see what they have available. That way, when you come to the job fair, you’ll already know if that company is only offering entry-level positions.
Chris: Employers at our events can be looking for anything from entry-level to executive-level hires. Some are looking for management, and some employers have programs that will fast-track you because of your military experience.
I always just encourage candidates to go and introduce yourself to the recruiter and showcase yourself. Know what you are looking for and what you qualify for, and ask if they have anything along those lines.
If they don’t say yes right away, ask them what they are hiring for. But don’t be discouraged if the first few booths you hit don’t have what you want. Be persistent. If there are 40 booths in that room and you only talk to 3 and they’re all looking for entry-level positions, don’t get discouraged. You still have 37 booths that could have your dream job. You need to talk to everybody. Use your time as wisely as possible.
Doug: There are entry-level jobs, and there are upper-management jobs and everything in between. I get recruiters telling me what they’re looking for all the time; and usually those requests are for a specific, higher-level position.
Sometimes, recruiters will come up to me and say “I’m looking for an operations chief today. Can you assist me?” In cases like that, I keep my eyes open as I meet the candidates at the event. If I find someone who might qualify, I’ll bring them over to that booth and introduce them. If candidates stop and talk at every booth, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many different types of jobs are available for them.
Robert: There is a wide variety of jobs at our events. I know people who have found jobs like project manager or senior-level management positions at our job fairs. It just depends. Plus, there are a bunch of companies who have training programs. So you could get into a management training program and move up in the company from there.
Should I connect with the recruiter on LinkedIn?
Chris: Yes, you absolutely should. I always recommend that to candidates after they have had a conversation with a recruiter. A lot of times, even if that isn’t the individual who will follow up with you directly for an interview, they can act as a conduit into that organization. Don’t bombard them. Don’t constantly ask them where you stand in terms of getting the job. But, yes, connecting with them on LinkedIn is a good idea.
Rob: I would recommend that for sure. It’s all about who you know. I tell people to even connect with other veterans who work at that company. Then ask that person how they got their foot in the door, and pick their brain about it.
But absolutely connect, and make sure there’s a personal touch. That will separate you from the rest of the applicants. They can make the judgment whether they’re accepting your request or not, but in this case it’s a good way to reach out.
Robert: That depends. If you’ve talked to them in depth about a specific position and they’ve brought up “next steps,” then I would definitely send a request as well as thank them for their time though LinkedIn. Tell them you appreciate them meeting with you, and that you’re interested in talking to them more about the next step you will need to do to work for their company.
Those kinds of things are impactful. If you send a request with no personal note, they might not accept it.
How soon after the event should I follow up?
Adam: Since our events are on Thursdays, I would follow up on Friday. Keep in mind that many recruiters might be traveling on Friday, so you might not hear back right away. If you don’t get to it on Friday, definitely do it by Monday.
Doug: Send a follow-up email right when you get home or the next day. Thank them for their time at the event, and bring up specific things you talked about at the job fair to keep yourself fresh in their mind. Follow-up is a huge thing that people often overlook, but it makes a really big difference in how you are perceived by the company. It’s professional and courteous.
Rob: I would say between 24 to 48 hours after. Just send them an email thanking them for their time. It will make you stand out from the rest of the pack who have not followed up, and it shows that you are serious about that position.
Robert: It depends on what the next steps were. Make sure you are clear, when you talk to the recruiter, on what you need to do next. It may be that they aren’t doing interviews until a week after the event. So you wouldn’t do your follow-up right away; you’d want to wait until after you went in for your interview. You can even ask the recruiter at the event, “What are the next steps, and when should I follow up?”
Are the companies at the event really hiring?
Chris: Yes, they absolutely are. RecruitMilitary job fairs are private events, which means the companies that are there paid to have a booth to talk to you, the veterans. That is not money well spent if they are only there in a public- relations capacity, and not actually doing any hiring. Every now and then, you’ll get a company that is in a hiring freeze but is still collecting resumes for when that is lifted or when their busy season picks up.
Doug: Yes, they really are hiring. I got hired at a RecruitMilitary job fair. It might not happen right on the spot and you may have to go through a hiring process, but these companies are at the event because they really want to hire veterans and their spouses.
Rob: They are hiring, but certain government contractors have to meet compliance requirements of the OFCCP, which is the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, a part of the U.S. Department of Labor. This means that there are protocols in the hiring process. If they tell you to apply online, it’s not that they aren’t excited about you as a candidate. It’s because they have to go through certain steps before having a formal conversation with you.
I often communicate with the companies at the event to get a feel for what they’re looking for, and I try to send candidates their way if I can. But these companies definitely want to connect with the military talent pool, especially from a hiring standpoint.
Will the companies be hiring on the spot?
Adam: Some might hire on the spot if they find the right candidate at the right time, but I wouldn’t recommend going into the event expecting that.
Chris: Each company is different, and every company has their own hiring process. Many organizations have what is called an “applicant tracking system,” where the applicant must apply online. They may take your resume at the job fair, and then still ask you to apply online. Don’t let that discourage you. They have met you, and they have your resume, which means you will likely go to the top of the pile.
But you have to go through the correct procedure to be considered for an official conversation about the position. There’s a process, and there are steps in place that go beyond the personal preference of the recruiter on site.
Some recruiters will do on-the-spot hiring. From what I have seen, this is usually for entry-level positions. But there are certain companies who will do interviews and on-the-spot hiring for more advanced positions, so don’t completely rule it out.
Rob: It really depends on the company and what their HR process is. I’ve seen companies ask to use the venue’s fax machine to send a hiring package back to headquarters, and I’ve also seen some where you have to go through a bunch of different steps for federal employment protocol. So yes, there are employers hiring on the spot, but you will have to talk to them yourself to find out which ones are actually doing that.
Robert: I’ve been to many events where companies are doing interviews right on site. I’ve seen companies doing preliminary interviews with everybody they thought could be a good fit. I’ve also seen companies offer as many as eight contingent offers at an event. Of course, all of those would depend on the candidate passing a background screening and drug test. And most companies, if they find a superstar, aren’t going to let them get away.
What should I do if I do not own a suit?
Adam: I wouldn’t resort to jeans and a T-shirt. Wear khakis and a button-up shirt. There are actually a lot of companies out there that will rent out suits for the day, if you’re a veteran. So make sure to look into those resources. But come in the best attire that you can.
Chris: No one is going to judge you for not owning a suit. If you have a Men’s Wearhouse near you, they have a program where they are donating suits to individuals who are re-entering the workforce. You more than likely qualify for that program. That is something you will want to check in on.
Also, Farmers Insurance has a Suits for Soldiers program for its agents, employees, and customers to collect and donate suits to men and women who are transitioning to civilian careers.
If you don’t want to wear a suit, then go for business casual. Dress to impress. Your attire isn’t everything, but you want to leave a good first impression.
Doug: Just do the best you can. I don’t even own a suit. But wear a button-up shirt and a tie or a nice dress, and look presentable. When I was hired for my job here at RecruitMilitary, I wore a long-sleeve shirt and a tie to the job fair. If you feel comfortable and look professional, you will do fine.
Rob: You just want to look like a serious job seeker. Do the best you can with what you have. A polo shirt with khakis is fine if that is the closest thing you have to business attire. Just don’t show up in jeans and a Bon Jovi T-shirt.
Robert: If you don’t own a suit, please don’t let that be a deterrent from participating in the job fair. Dressing appropriately is important. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be wearing a suit. Wear a collared shirt, polish your shoes, look squared away. A suit is not the end-all.
I have been out of the military for 20 years. Is this event for me?
Adam: Absolutely. These events aren’t just for finding a job, they’re about networking, too. And if you aren’t sure about going to the event, you have the tools to find out if the companies there are going to be a fit for you and your work experience. Once again, I am going to plug our website and job board, because you can look ahead of time and see who’s going to be there and what they have to offer.
Plus, most companies don’t really advertise the higher-level positions that they have open at the job fair. If they find the right candidate, they might bring it up, but usually the recruiters are looking to fill a number of specific slots, and that is where they focus. Do your homework before the event and you will know who to talk to at the job fair.
Chris: This event is for anybody and everybody who has served, or is currently serving. If you’ve been out for 20 years, that tells me that you have a wealth of civilian job experience. The recruiters are looking for a wide variety of candidates. While there are definitely some companies looking for recently separated military, there are also some looking for those who have been out for a while. You being out for 20 years might mean that you are of higher caliber in their eyes.
So definitely come, and be able to highlight what you did in the service. But also be able to show what you’ve done since. Your civilian work experience will speak for itself.
Rob: If you have industry experience, use it to your advantage. If you’ve been out of work for 20 years – as a homemaker, for example – you will want to think about what, ideally, you wouldn’t mind doing. Obviously the way business works and technology changes in 20 years might mean you have to start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way back up.
But there are employers here that are looking for intangible skills, like leadership and the ability to be part of a team. These are skills you learned in the military, and they don’t necessarily go away with time. So focus on things like that.
I am a disabled veteran. Should I tell this to the recruiter?
Adam: If it’s a disability that will hinder your work, yes, you should disclose that. But if your disability won’t hinder your ability to work, it’s up to you whether or not you tell them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to tell them.
There are certain tax credits companies can get for hiring disabled veterans, but I wouldn’t mention that at the job fair. That’s more of a topic to cover in follow-up conversations. Having your disability on your resume or somewhere in your paperwork can open the door to that conversation as well.
Chris: It’s not necessary. If it is a visible disability, you can assume that they know already, so you don’t need to mention it. If it’s not a visible disability, they might want to know because it’s part of their diversity hiring strategy. If they’re a government contractor, they need to comply with OFCCP regulations.
The OFCCP conducts compliance evaluations to, in the words of its Federal Contract Compliance Manual, “determine whether federal contractors are complying with their obligations to ensure nondiscrimination. They also determine whether contractors are taking affirmative action to employ, promote, train, retain and provide reasonable accommodation to certain protected veterans and individuals with disabilities, respectively.”
If your disability stems from PTSD or something along those lines, you certainly don’t have to tell them. It’s always up to you whether you disclose your disability or not. Just know that your disability won’t act as a hindrance at our events. It’s not going to be a barrier for you to obtain employment, just because you’re disabled.
Doug: I wouldn’t enter the conversation with talking about things you are unable to do because of a disability. However, because of the tax credits that are available to companies who hire disabled veterans, it might be worthwhile to mention that you qualify as a hire that would make them eligible for those credits. But I wouldn’t lead off on that. Start with your skills and what you bring to the table.
Rob: It’s not mandatory for you to divulge. So if you don’t want to let someone know about your disability status or don’t think that it would enhance chances of you getting the job, then I recommend just keeping that to yourself.
If you have any other questions about our job fairs, or any questions about our job board, Search & Employ®, or any other RecruitMilitary product or service, just send them to Chris Nunn at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will get them answered for you.
From all of us here at RecruitMilitary, best of luck in your job search, and thank you for service in the armed forces of the United States.
Elizabeth Stetler is associate editor and production/circulation manager of Search & Employ® and a veteran of the United States Army. Contact her at email@example.com.
By Elizabeth Stetler