Military Transition: Conquering the Convention

By By Mike Hangge | April 1, 2016

This year’s Mission Solutions Summit will be held in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of the Georgia World Congress Center

Many of you will be reading this as you prepare to head off to Quad A’s 2016 Mission Solutions Summit in Atlanta.

For those of you preparing to transition into the civilian workforce, the annual gathering of the Army Aviation Assn. of America (as the group is formally known) will be an excellent opportunity to make some critically needed connections. Although the summit on April 28 to 30 at the Georgia World Congress Center isn’t meant to focus on new career prospects, it is possible to find a job at an aviation convention. I did! My job here at Rotor & Wing International started two years ago at 2014’s Heli-Expo.


Pre-Mission Planning

Like any other mission, attendance at a convention should begin with thorough research and planning to help you be confident and desirable to potential employers.

Most organizations post information about the floor layout, program focus and exhibitors several months before the event. Use that to familiarize yourself with the companies you’re most interested in. Know their goals and mission statements, latest news, events, locations and jobs. Connect with companies via LinkedIn and reconnect with old friends who work for or with the companies to find out if they’re attending. Look at the event schedule, and exhibitors and speaker lists to mark where you want to be and when.

Mission Execution

Dress for success, go with a plan, meet new people and be vibrant. Thousands of faces will pass through the exhibits. Stand out by being knowledgeable, pleasant and professional.

Your uniform says a lot about you even before you introduce yourself. Ensure that you appear professional and feel comfortable. Start with these basic choices—military or civilian.

If you choose to go in uniform, ensure it is appropriate for the event and that it is clean and presents well. Always remember that your uniform represents hundreds of years of men and women who have sacrificed for this nation. Behave accordingly.

If you wear civilian clothes, then ensure you know how to dress professionally. Most of you will instinctively understand this, but there are still a few who have let Uncle Sam choose their clothes for too long and need to learn how to dress themselves for success.

Dress one level above the job for which you’re applying. If you’re not sure what jobs are available, then an acceptable level is usually “business casual,” a loose term for professional attire somewhere between a suit and casual club. The general rule for men is trousers or khakis and a collared shirt, and for women it is trousers or a knee-length skirt and a blouse or collared shirt.

Carry more business cards than you think you might need, and ensure they’re accurate.

Tailor your resume to the event, the jobs you’re interested in and the companies that will be there. But do not just hand out your resume. Understand that most exhibitors are not there to specifically look for future employees and won’t really want to carry your resume back to their hiring managers. You also run the risk of seeming insincere and pushy, while your resume risks being crumpled or lost. Instead, have your resume ready if and only if you are asked for it.

Remember that this is a convention, not a job fair. Use the time to network and create lasting connections. Do not appear desperate or introduce yourself with lines like, “I’m looking for a job,” or, “So what kinds of jobs do you have available?”

Instead, start conversations and allow that talk to flow. One of the great things about a convention is that companies with only 10 employees are parked right beside companies with 10,000 or more. Give those smaller companies a chance; they might not have the budget or background of the more established ones, but they just might have a bigger position or fresh and innovative viewpoint that will get you excited.

While walking the exhibits, act as if this were an interview rather than a shopping trip. Don’t let the free swag distract you from your objective of finding a new career.

Use the time with exhibitors to learn, try out new products, listen to great pitches and discover the latest trends. The wisdom you gain at these conventions can be directly applicable to your current job and provide instantaneous knowledge you can use to refresh your mind.

Don’t take up all of the presenters’ time. They are busy talking to thousands of other people throughout the exhausting days of a convention.

Never underestimate the power of your fellow attendees. The person in line with you at the churro stand might be the owner of the company you want to impress. Perfect your people skills.

Always treat others with respect and kindness. Do not be arrogant, rude or insulting. Remember that there are thousands of people who are just as capable and available. You may be looking for a job, but how you treat people is often more important than the qualifications and experiences you’ve accumulated.

Be approachable, be positive and smile. Nobody enjoys talking to a grump. Have fun, relax, meet new people, look them in the eyes and shake their hands firmly.

Most conventions have evening social events. Attend them. Try to meet enough people during the day that you can walk around at the socials and say hello to just about any group. Be yourself without being your bad self. Remember that people are always watching and listening, so stay sober.

Lastly, remember to take notes about the companies that impressed you, the things you learned and the people you met. If possible, jot down where you met them, why you should reconnect with them and why they might remember you. That information will be invaluable two weeks later when you’re following up.


After your contacts have caught their breath ensure you reconnect and follow up on commitments. LinkedIn is excellent for this, but an email greeting will also work to ensure they know you’re not only a convention attendee but also a viable candidate.

Conquer the convention by taking advantage of what it has to offer – great people, impressive companies, fascinating exhibits and opportunities to make new friends and connections.

If you see me walking the halls, let me how I can improve this Military Transition feature—after all, it’s for you.

Hall of Fame Inductees

The Army Aviation Hall of Fame will induct three members at the summit April 29.

The new members include Gen. James D. Thurman, late Col. Harvey E. Stewart and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Edmund W. Hubard III.

As a former Brigade Operations Officer for the Apache Training Brigade at Fort Hood, Texas, Thurman played a role in shaping the future of Army Aviation while convening the first Army Aviation Task Force.

Stewart was a decorated airman and notably served as commander of the 118th Aviation Company in Vietnam.

Hubard flew a range of aircraft, including the UH-1 in Vietnam, during his 31-year career. He was recruited into Operation Honey Badger, the second Iranian hostage rescue mission.

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