Job fairs: ugly blind dates or opportunities to discover new things?


Are job fairs like those ugly blind dates your friends tell stories about over a cup of coffee or a drink?

Last week, my good friend Michael Brownfiel compared a blind date to a career fair he attended as a first sergeant in Hawaii. Today, the retired Army first sergeant works with me as a volunteer facilitator for the Military Transition Roundtable.

Our mission? It’s to help military professionals in transition with making a smart exodus from military service.

In Michael’s view, the only career fair he went to was an ugly blind date. Stationed in Hawaii, one job fair rep said they were hiring people to ride on garbage trucks.

The pay? Just above $20K per year. According to Michael, that annual pay would mean that someone would have to live “under the bridge” with those wages.

Of course, Michael’s comments got me thinking of a personal, blind date. It was right before I joined the military.

My college roomie, Bob Darling, invited me to meet his wife’s friend, a librarian on a blind date. I was awaiting departure to the Air Force, and I didn’t have any plans except hanging with my folks.

I do not remember the first name of the girl that his first wife set me up with, but the experience was compared to my own military job fair experiences. In short, nothing happened. Yet I learned some things about myself and my goals.

The girl was a nice person. We had a love of books and storytelling. Even so, there was no magic between us.

“So………………………….. when are you going to ask her out?” Bob’s wife asked.

I gave a non-committal answer and noted my future date to join the Air Force.

Here’s what I learned from the experience. Even when well-meaning people want to set you up on a blind date or have you go to a job fair, you have to ask the most basic of questions.

Is that blind date or the job fair worth my time? Or is it an exercise in futility?

I learned that school librarians are sometimes funny and warm people. Later, my youngest daughter became one.

If I was to put Michael back into the Military Transition Roundtable Wayback machine to the day he decided to go to that Hawaii career fair, could I observe him looking at the list of employers who were at this Hawaii military job fair? Did I or someone with experience with job fairs suggest he do a little pre-event research?

Did the job fair have a company or organization that could help you?

A lot of people will share that blind date story of their grandparents or elderly relatives where they met the love of their life. Now, 50 years later, they have a big family with three children and 10 grandchildren.

Job fairs, like that specific blind date, can open a door to a longtime, post-military career, but the military professional in transition needs to know what he or she thinks they want after military service.

Can career fairs open up other doors?

Good things can sometimes happen with chance encounters. Like those career fairs, perhaps there’s a chance that a military professional or his spouse can find the lead toward a new career. However, it’s rare when a job fair lands a military professional in transition to the job of their dreams.

Art G. Garcia, a friend of mine, in San Antonio suggests to those in transition to look at job fairs as networking events. “You should practice your elevator speech and make LinkedIn connections,” he said in response to a recent post asking for input for this article. “I challenge introverted mentees to approach complete strangers.”

Chris Hogg, a Columbus, Ohio career coach said job fairs provide wonderful opportunities to add fellow job seekers who can expand your network.

“Don’t ignore other job seekers,” he said. “They can be valuable mentors of your network since they will often run across jobs in their search that is not a good fit for them but might be a good fit for you.”