Being unemployed can be challenging, but learning to optimize networking opportunities, and connect with others, can make it a far less frustrating one.

Spending time and energy looking through job postings is only one aspect of a potentially successful job search (and in this day and age, an increasingly small one). Online networking is one of the critical ways to find a new career. But that doesn’t mean all networking should be virtual. Career fairs can present a wide variety of unexpected opportunities for job seekers to join new networks, meet people, and reconnect with past co-workers and colleagues. You never know who you may run into at a career fair.

Career or job fairs give job seekers a chance to talk face to face with many recruiters, from different companies and organizations, in a single location. In many cases, recruiters and hiring managers sponsor an event which targets professionals with similar career backgrounds, such as defense or military specific jobs, and gives attendees a chance to speak directly to recruiters who specialize in hiring for jobs in that field or industry. More and more there career fairs which specifically focus on veterans, military spouses, or job seekers with security clearances.

Knowing what to expect, and how things work at a career fair can help job seekers prepare themselves for the experience. Here are some suggestions and tips for making the most out of a career fair:

Pace yourself

It is easy to get ahead of yourself and become exhausted by talking to so many people in a few hours. The best way to manage your time and energy is to set a few important goals and stick to them. It probably isn’t realistic to talk to every recruiter and company, so pace yourself and decide how long you will stay, and what your goals are right from the start.

Work the room

Find a few people to engage with and share information and your own job search experience. You never know who they may know, or if they have insight into a position you may be interested in. Networking with other job seekers is a valuable way to make connections, especially for those with clearances. Job fairs provide rich networking opportunities, and can increase your chances for finding a good job fit.

Be optimistic

Walking into a room filled with job seekers can make an unemployed person feel disheartened, but it is important to keep an optimistic and a positive attitude. There have been numerous cases of job seekers hitting dead ends through months of searching, and all it took to finally find a job was the chance to speak to a recruiter at a career fair. And gone are the days when being currently unemployed is a bad thing. Today, hiring managers expect it, and it’s good news – it means you’re available immediately.

Be prepared

Carrying business cards and printed copies of resumes is a career fair must. Even in the digital age, most recruiters will still want to have paper copies. Now is a great time to make sure your resume is easy to read. Hiring managers will scan for your top skills in five seconds – what will they find? Exchanging business cards with other job seekers is a great way to keep track of people you encountered, and to follow up with them at a later date.

Don’t be intimidated

Career fairs can be intimidating, especially if they are held in very large venues. Walking into the lobby of a hotel, and seeing a line of people waiting to register and enter, has the potential to send you running for the door! Don’t become overwhelmed by the crowd, and stay focused on the potential benefit that could be waiting just inside the doors. There may be someone who can help you find that open position which is a perfect fit. What have you got to lose?

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.