How to Work It at a Job Fair: Five Mistakes to Avoid


Hello milspouses! The hubs and I are PCSing soon, and I’ve been taking advantage of all the spouse networking events in my area before we move. At more than one of these events, the conversation turned to job fairs. It seemed like a pretty even divide: some people loved them and felt they were full of great opportunities, while others hated them and left them feeling frustrated and annoyed.

Have you ever been to a job fair? If not, let me paint the scene for you. You walk in to a large room or auditorium filled with tables and tables of potential employers. It’s kind of like a trade show; each table branded with their company logo and a whole lot of information and brochures about their company and what they offer (and sometimes cute freebies, like stress reliever penguins or plastic pizza wheels!). Some tables have really long lines of job fair goers waiting to talk to them and hand them their resume. Others are completely empty. The room can be hit or miss, much like any job search website out there.

If you’re a newbie like I was, it might feel a bit intimidating. I’m not great at starting up conversations or introducing myself to strangers, but it’s just one of those things where you have to put on your big girl panties (or big boy briefs) and go for it! Especially when you’re in the market for a job. You really have to step it up. And for heaven’s sake, dress up! Wear a suit or a nice dress—something you would wear to an interview.

Now that I have a few job fairs under my belt, here are five mistakes to avoid so you can milk that job fair for all it’s worth and work those tables to your advantage!

Don’t go to a job fair empty-handed. Don’t ever be caught at a job fair without these essentials: copies of your resume, a notebook and a pen. You’ll want to take notes after going to tables or meeting people so you remember the specifics. If you have business cards, bring them and hand them out with your resume. For the ladies, I personally find it annoying to bring my purse to an event like this, so I suggest bringing a nice folder or portfolio with everything tucked neatly inside. I keep my car key and lip gloss in my pocket.

Don’t go to a job fair expecting to get a job. Ouch, too harsh? Let’s be honest. Too many people go to job fairs expecting to walk out gainfully employed that very day. Does it happen? Yes, I’m sure it does. Is it likely? More often than not, no. There’s a higher chance you’ll walk out of a job fair without a job than with a job. So why even bother going? I’m glad you asked because that brings me to my next point.

Don’t be afraid to network. I know, you’re probably so sick of hearing it by now. “You have to network!” “Get out there and start networking!” But you’ve probably also heard people say, “It’s all about who you know” or “She got that job because she had the right connections.” The world might be really big, but the job market in communities surrounding military spouses isn’t. Get your beautiful face in front of those employers so they see you, meet you, get to know you and most importantly… remember you.

Don’t ignore your fellow milspouses. In my experience, military spouses have more connections than employers. We’re a pretty diverse bunch, aren’t we? We’re also motivated to help each other and to work. I may hear of a job at a company that doesn’t fit my own experience, but it might fit that of another spouse I’ve met. Share the love, people! If you know of a job that sounds promising, pass it along to a friend. Talk to the other milspouses at the job fair, find out where they’re from and ask them what kinds of jobs they’re looking for. Exchange business cards to help each other out when you hear about something! I usually start up a conversation by paying them a compliment. “Great shoes, I’ve been looking for a pair of nude heels like those!” Nothing beats an awkward icebreaker like a genuine compliment.

Don’t blend in. The last thing you want is to be forgettable. Maybe it’s the red blouse you wear or the QR code you add to your resume; whatever it may be, do something to make yourself stand out. You have to market yourself. Stand out! Shine bright! You are a product. Don’t show potential employers why they want you; show them why they need you. Sell yourself. Don’t sell yourself short.

What it comes down to is thinking of a job fair as a tool in a toolbox. To check out job fairs specific to military spouses, Hiring Our Heroes has frequent spouse events that are great because they include partners of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, which is basically like having a whole lot of people on your team supporting military spouses in the search for the right job. Give it a whirl… You never know until you try it!

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  • Cheryle says:

    Great piece Dani! Very informative and supportive.

  • A new government report criticizes Defense Department military spouse programs for not being able to prove that they are effective in helping spouses get jobs despite millions in federal funding.

  • One challenge to securing federal employment is understanding the language. Some military spouses are eligible for a noncompetitive appointment. But what is a noncompetive appointment, anyway? What are NAF-funded positions? If you don’t get a handle on the terms first, it will be difficult to know what resources are available. As a military spouse, you must first determine if you are eligible to apply for a particular job. Some postions are open to the public, others are open to those individuals with a competitive status (i.e. veterans), and then there are noncompetitive positions.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting a career fair in Washington, D.C., this week dedicated solely to helping military spouses find jobs.