Table manners: 3 key tips for job fairs

Here is a key tactic that most that most job-seekers overlook when attending a job or career fair:

Stop at every table!

One mistake we all make on occasion is to generalize. For example, people assume that health-care companies are only hiring health-care workers, or that insurance companies only need agents. So when they encounter these tables or displays, they typically say nothing and keep moving.

Here are three great reasons why one should visit every exhibit at a job or career fair:

1. Help wanted – But perhaps not the jobs you think

Recently, at one of our CareerExpos, I approached the University of North Carolina Health Care System table and asked them what positions they were looking to fill. The representative was quick to state: "Well, our biggest need is carpenters and plumbers." I was shocked! As I began to learn what the UNC Health Care System did, it made perfect sense. As the largest health-care provider in the state of North Carolina, the system owns dozens of facilities; therefore, they require a large cadre of licensed trade professionals.

My point here is, how many people walked by that table, assuming the only openings would be for health-related professions? Without the "stop at every table" strategy, I know I would have. One never knows the need of an organization unless he or she asks. So, it is crucial for attendees to stop at every table, learn more about the company, and ask what they may be seeking.

2. License to thrill – Sell yourself

Along with getting to know more about organizations and companies, I encourage attendees with this advice: "Today, you have permission to be an extrovert and your own agent! No one should be able to market YOU better than YOU CAN!"

Attendees sometimes tell us that they wait in line to talk to people at the tables, only to feel frustrated because they are told to apply online. I explain that this is an opportunity for one to make a lasting impression on that representative. True, those who are manning these tables may not be the hiring authority, but they certainly know the person who is! Would it not be great for them to return to the corporate office and ask that hiring manager to find the application of a dynamic, confident applicant who really impressed them? Talk about a leg up on the competition!

3. Vocational Nirvana – Your dream career awaits

I like to get feedback on how we did at our events, so I ask people for their thoughts as they are leaving the exhibit hall. I met a veteran in San Antonio at the door; let’s call him Joe. He was quick to tell me that he was disappointed because he did not find any law enforcement agencies among our exhibitors. I asked him if he talked with USAA. Why should Joe talk with an insurance agency? Because USAA’s headquarters is located on a 200-acre campus in Northwest San Antonio. They have, in essence, their own police force! Joe had no idea, because he did not visit every table. I was eager to take him back over to USAA, and he left that day a satisfied customer.

The heart of this matter is: Your mission is fact-finding and networking. By spending time at each table, one learns to overcome stereotypes that lead to erroneous assumptions. More importantly, that career path and perhaps dream job may never materialize because a job-fair attendee did not take the time to investigate more opportunities.


  1. The most important component of this entire post is buried at the bottom: Your mission is fact-finding and networking. There continues to be an emphasis on Career Fairs for Veterans, but what is very rarely socialized is that the people attending on behalf of "company X" will be recruiting for one specific position, for the most part, and very rarely will they be the decision maker. For larger companies, that recruiter may or may not know much about other opportunities at that company. It does not mean they are not looking or that you're not a fit. In terms of return on time invested, you are likely better off looking for Veterans working at the companies you are interested in, and even better, their Military/veteran Recruiters (typically this is a very small team so they are likely NOT at the career fair you were going to attend). Linkedin is an EXCELLENT tool for this. Even simple google searches can yield results.
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