Attending a career fair? As a military veteran, you know about the importance of preparation, and a career fair is no different. So you polished your résumé, practiced your pitch, cleaned and pressed your best business suit, and made a great first impression at the event. But your work is still not done! To make that effort truly pay off, take the time afterward and go that extra mile to stand out from the crowd with an effective post-fair follow-up.

First, you should organize your contacts. Hopefully, you now have a stack of business cards and other materials that you collected at the event (or e-mail addresses if you attended a virtual event). Make a spreadsheet of all of these new contacts, listing their names, organizations, job titles, contact information (phone and e-mail), and when and where you met them. This will help you to remember who's who during your future conversations.

Next, send a thank-you note to each recruiter you spoke with at the career fair. This simple gesture can cement or even improve the impression you made, and it will set you apart from the other candidates. In a 2017 Accountemps survey of more than 300 human resource managers, 80 percent of respondents said that thank-you messages after an interview were somewhat or very helpful, yet only 24 percent of HR managers reported receiving notes from applicants. If fewer than one in four job seekers send thank-you notes after an interview, imagine how few send one after a career fair. The moral: Do not neglect the post-fair thank-you note if you want to stand out!

How should you send a thank-you note? The same survey said that 65 percent of job seekers send their thank-you notes via e-mail, and for a career fair, e-mail is the best way to go. You can certainly call or write a thank-you note by hand, but e-mail and text message are the fastest options and provide the employer with documentation of your correspondence. Moreover, they provide an easy way to respond to your message. Of the two, e-mail is the more professional and less intrusive method.

What should you say in your thank-you e-mail? The best advice is to keep it short and simple and be sure to

  • Thank the recruiter for attending the career fair. (Don’t forget to mention the name and date of the event.)
  • Highlight why you think you’re a good fit for the position(s) that you discussed and why you're excited about the opportunity.
  • Briefly recap any highlights from your conversation that may help the recruiter to remember you. (Were you and the recruiter from the same hometown? Did you both serve in the same branch? Did you talk about the Super Bowl, Olympics, etc.?)

You may want to also attach a version of your résumé that's customized to your target position at that organization. Be sure to also provide your full name and phone number so that the employer has several ways to reach you.

Now is also a good time to begin preparing for those interviews that will inevitably come. Reassess your current skills, abilities, strengths, interests, and work values. Revisit your accomplishments, and get comfortable talking about them. Think of some stories that showcase your achievements and demonstrate intangible qualities, like judgment, initiative, teamwork, or leadership. Ideally, you should have three or four good examples of your work and/or military experience firmly in mind that can be adapted to answer a variety of behavioral-based interview questions.

Be sure to explain your experiences using civilian terminology. Military terms and acronyms can be confusing and off-putting to some employers. They may not ask for clarification and, as a result, may not fully understand or appreciate the scope and depth of your experiences. If possible, do a mock interview with someone who does not have military experience and who can give you candid feedback.

To help you with interview preparation, UMUC has two great interview practice tools that are available for all UMUC students and alumni through CareerQuest. Quinncia allows you to upload your résumé so you can receive a customized interview based on your education and professional experience. It will also provide you with customized feedback based on your interview responses, body language, and facial expressions. Interview Stream allows you to create a customized interview from a database of thousands of interview questions. Use your webcam, phone, or tablet to record your interview, and then watch your interview to see how you can improve your responses and professional presentation.

While you're in CareerQuest, don't forget to update your résumé and profile. Many employers reach out to UMUC to connect with our military-connected students, so be sure to mention your military affiliation and active security clearances. Also, if you haven't already, be sure to sign up for UMUC's upcoming spring career fair or any other professional development UMUC Events. And if you need assistance, please feel free to reach out to a Career Advisor. Good luck!

About the Author

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the lead trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop, where she taught transitioning servicemembers about the civilian job search. Kristin is a proud military spouse, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their goals.