You may think that tech expos are merely places where you can drool and dream over your industry’s latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets. After all, what’s not to love about James Bond-esque tools and tricks of the trade designed to keep the balances of the universe in check?

Did you realize, however, that tech expos offer you so much more as a job seeker?

Behind the carefully arranged displays, shiny signage and freebie stress balls, is a goldmine of networking opportunities for the taking.

And as you may recall from just about anything you ever learned about job searching, networking is crucial.

“Networking abounds between and among exhibitors as well as visitors,” said Dr. Joseph T. Page, Jr., the Network Management Systems Site Manager at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Europe.

Dr. Page is a DoD contractor employed by BAE Systems IT and a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) who recently co-sponsored a tech expo in Stuttgart, Germany with U.S. European Command, U.S. Africa Command and DISA Europe.

“Exhibitors are always eager to talk to visitors and conversations can easily lead to potential career discussions and opportunities,” said Page.

Depending on the specific tech expo being held, you may also have opportunities to attend any number of workshops and lectures, often led by industry leaders and other well-known figures.

Some events require that you register in advance and pay a fee for attendance. Others are free of charge. Business or military attire is usually recommended.

At some of the bigger events drawing in thousands, there are generally perks available for the taking as well. Attendees often walk away with giveaways, bonus offers and raffle prizes. Internet cafes are sometimes provided as a courtesy.

So, how can you make the most of your next visit to one?

Know what you’re planning to attend in advance. It may be called tech expo but is it an expo or is it a job fair? Inquiring minds should figure it out ahead of time so you bring your correct A-Game to the event. If it is an expo, take your business cards; if it is a job fair then brings stacks of your resume along.

“In terms of a job search, [a tech expo] is more geared towards laying the groundwork for future discussions rather than being considered as a job interview or as an opportunity to give someone your resume,” said Page.

“While it may be a good idea to keep a copy or two of your resume handy just in case, the best bet is to have business cards handy to pass out. This is the simplest & most welcome networking tool for all concerned,” said Page.


Do your homework

Check the publicity ahead of the vent and see which firms are going to exhibit. Research the ones you’re interested in before the event.

Recon the joint

Most conferences and expos post a floor map online. A number even now have apps you can use for everything from maps, to the best place to get a cup of coffee. Take advantage so you know what to hit when, rather than wandering around aimlessly. Dress to impress, not distress.

It may not be a job interview but it is a first impression and you only get one shot at making a good one.

Make good use of your time.

Take advantage of the professional development opportunities available to you thought the event.

Skip the swag

Avoid grabbing the freebies that most firms have available for you. You don’t really need any more pens, USB sticks, chocolate, stress balls or lanyards…even if they do look cool and glow in the dark.

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.