Several Society of Military Spouse in STEM (SMSS) members attended the Military Spouse Town Hall on Thursday, May 11 hosted by Military Spouse Magazine, in conjunction with title sponsor Allstate Insurance Company. This annual event, held in Washington DC, boasts an agenda addressing important topics pertaining to the country’s 1.1 million military spouses and their families.
At one of this year’s Town Hall sessions, attendees were invited to engage with recruiters from five corporations who specifically target military spouses for employment opportunities. Representatives from Allstate, Capital One, Starbucks, Verizon, and Amazon provided their own views on how to attend job fairs and get hired.
These key job fair tips provide career-minded military spouses guidance to engage with recruiters at upcoming fairs, through military or private organizations. While some of these tips were provided by panelists during the Town Hall last week, I also took this a little bit further to really dive deeper and understand what we need to tackle our own professional careers.
- Research Companies in Attendance – It isn’t enough to just go table to table looking for a job at a fair. Walking up to a recruiter and asking, “hey, are you hiring?” won’t win you any brownie points either. Instead, do your research on which companies will be in attendance. If a list hasn’t been posted ahead of time, call the sponsoring organization ahead of time to find out. Then, at least the night before, research the companies you are interested in, hone in on specific jobs you would like to be considered for, and take aim at those companies when you attend.
For professionals in STEM, it may not be obvious that a company is hiring individuals for related positions. Get creative and find out what types of positions they have on staff. Utilize LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Muse to discover positions that may be out of the normal hiring types, but of interest to you. For example, Starbucks primarily hires baristas in local locations, but they also rely on corporate operations individuals, including information technology professionals. Amazon hires work-from-home customer service representatives, but also data center managers in certain locations.
- Dress to Impress – What you wear is important, so dress like you would for an interview. If you are not dressed professionally, you will stand out and it could be a detriment to your job search. Oftentimes, the recruiters are your first line to the company, and their opinions of you will matter. They will notice details, down to scuffed shoes, wrinkled shirts, or inappropriate lengths.
- Show Interest in the Company – This should be a no-brainer. Companies are looking for value and culture synergy. If you are looking for a job at Verizon, but you rave about Sprint’s service, you likely won’t be a good fit. Do you know what that company’s values are and how you align? Just wanting a job isn’t enough, you have to want to be one with the company.
- Start Somewhere – What if your skills outperform that of the job you want? What if the company is only hiring entry-level, and you may have higher level skills? These panelists encouraged candidates to apply to lower-level positions and get their foot in the door if the company was really where they wanted to be. Excel at the first position, and you will likely be promoted quickly through the company to a job that is more fitting to your skills. This can certainly be frustrating to individuals who have held higher level positions, and it may appear that they are going backwards in their career; however, recruiters said that especially with military spouses, you may have to go backwards first in order to propel your career further forwards.
While I agree with the idea of sometimes going backwards to go forward, and certainly have had to do so in my own career progression, it can be frustrating at times to hear this advice when all you see are entry level positions before you. Instead, heed this advice with some flexibility. Starting somewhere could mean taking a position that is a lateral move from where you previously were, or a position that isn’t a perfect fit, but the company culture is. As a career-minded spouse, it is your choice what sacrifice is worth it for your family. One of the panelists said it best, “you have to decide between the 3 C’s when selecting a company to work for: Culture, Compensation, and Commute. If culture is what matters the most, then you may take a hit on compensation or have a longer commute, and so on for the others.” Starting somewhere does not have to mean starting at the very bottom of the corporate ladder, outside of your professional training, but it could take a little longer to find the right fit for you.
- Bring Copies of Your Resumes – Recruiters who show interest in you will likely want something to take back to the hiring managers of those positions you have identified. Bring lots of copies of your resume, and make sure your contact information is accurate. The key point that was reiterated by several panelists was to keep it brief and down to just one or two pages.
While panelists at the Town Hall were astute to how volunteer hours translated to employment experience, this is not always recognized industry-wide. Another issue heard throughout SMSS, is how gaps in employment are addressed. Panelists said to be forthright and clearly explain the reasoning, whether in a cover letter when you apply or discussed openly with the recruiter. Military friendly companies were amenable to hearing reasoning due to spousal relocations or staying home with children, but this is not always the case with all companies. SMSS is working to address the issue of translating volunteer hours and gaps in employment by creating better understanding of how military spouse employment varies from civilian employment history.
If you need help translating your employment and volunteer information for your resume, MySECO, a DoD-funded program offered through Military One Source, provides resources and assistance.
- Talk Up Your Skills – If you can’t see how you will fit in with that company, neither can the recruiter. Even if you have never done that job before, show how your varied experience can be beneficial to that company. If you can connect the dots, then the recruiter can, too. They will then be able to advocate for you to the hiring manager and show how you can be an asset to their company. The military recruiters that you meet may not necessarily be the ones hiring for the specific position you are interested in, but they are often the gateway into the organization, so do them a favor and make it as easy as possible to recommend you by presenting yourself as a great candidate.
- Follow-up with the Top Recruiters – This is the most important step in networking at a job fair. Recruiters spend hours upon hours seeking quality candidates for their organization, yet once they have found a good one, they may actually lose touch with them quickly. Instead, follow-up with a thank you note and mail it the next day to the address on the recruiter’s business card. In the letter, thank the recruiter for his/her time, restate your interest in their company and your qualifications for the position, reiterate your interest in a follow-up interview, and make a promise to follow-up with a phone call. The key is to follow through with that promise, so mark it on a calendar or put it on your phone as an appointment and stick to it.
If you did not identify a specific position, but know this is a company you would like to stay in touch with, make note of that in your card. Sometimes, recruiters may be currently looking for candidates for specific positions, but if you have made a positive impression on them, they will hold on to your information and re-contact those on a select list for future positions. This may include more technically-minded positions, like STEM, where the offerings may be fewer, but the candidates may be harder to fit.
These five companies, and many more like them, are becoming friendlier to hiring military spouses and veterans. In fact, many have set metrics on hiring spouses and veterans that make it imperative to find quality candidates and retain them for long-term careers. These companies are investing in the future of their workforce, and see that military spouses are a great, previously undervalued talent that enrich their company cultures.
The Society of Military Spouses in STEM is committed to supporting active and retired military spouses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related fields. We help spouses reach their full potential by advocating for technical interests and guiding them through their academic and professional career.
What other tips do you have for job fair attendees? Have you had a great experience at a job fair or do you have lessons learned? SMSS wants to hear from you – leave a comment below and share your experiences with us.