Today’s post focuses on what to do at career events and how my mentality completely changed about fairs this spring.
It was frustrating to go to a career event with huge companies like IBM and Dell, excited to strike up a conversation only to have one of the recruiters talk about “applying on our website” – yeah yeah yeah, blah blah blah. It was all the same at every booth.
Then I would get to a booth and communicate with someone for about 20-30 minutes sometimes, follow up with an email if could get his/her information, and still hear nothing back! I’m sure that for anyone who has attended a career event/fair (especially college fairs), there have been these frustrations.
Well here is the truth about what I needed to do to make career fairs work for me. I re-adjusted my game plan for a major conference I went to during Spring Break and I realized some major things:
- Regardless of who I was or how I networked, I needed to learn some things about the company BEFORE getting to their booth.
- I needed to target companies I already applied to first, then other companies later.
- I could not waver in knowing what I wanted for my career future and my specific skill-set.
Seems like stuff you’ve heard in a book or article somewhere before right? Well I’ll explain the psychology and practicability behind these points and why they finally make sense to me.
Learning about the company – The psychology
Well obviously anyone would learn about the company beforehand, right? This is common sense and certainly we’re not in the group of people who wouldn’t at least look through the company’s products, services, etc. However, there is strong psychology behind this that opened up a new understanding for me. Learning about the company’s products, services, latest projects (1 or 2) is usually enough to:
- Strike up company conversation with the recruiters about a specific topic that they actually care about
- Demonstrate that you know what the company needs and understand them to some degree
- Save a whole lot of time
Recruiters don’t want to spend all their time delivering information to people passing their booth who were too lazy to apply for the job or study the company in the first place. These people are aware, however that not every person who shows up to their booths would already apply online, so sometimes this is okay.
However, recruiters would much rather not have to explain their department and company every single time when a new person arrives…I realized that I should have the common decency to use the World Wide Web to put in my share of work beforehand, because I’m not living in the stone age and it saves time for both of us – seriously.
Finally, beforehand research on the company (I can learn how to do that anywhere online and get a few new pointers every time) immediately cuts me out of the majority of people who go to those booths! I’m surprised that less than 50% do this, but that’s okay, because I know I will already stand out – and at the fairs, it’s not as important that I qualify for the job better than other people (right now anyway), it’s that I can stand out enough to bypass the company’s system and for someone to pull me out of their database – that I would have been in because I already applied for one of their positions!
Knowing what I want – The psychology
People nowadays (especially in the Western world and in the US) like to categorize things and people – in fact, they need to, because that’s what our brain does to process information so quickly. Knowing the 1 or 2 things a person is good at or wants is all we care about so we can categorize him/her and quickly place that person in a box. This may seem a bit crude, but it’s very efficient. Recruiters definitely need to do it, because they need to place people quickly in the company.
So when I am asked “Internship or Full-time”, I don’t say “well, I can do either,” if I’m about to graduate and also start another program, but would not start the next program if I get a job offer (which is the case, actually). I go with “Full-time” because it makes my life easier and the recruiters’ lives as well. Obviously you won’t be looking for a full-time position if you’re nowhere near graduating yet. You would be looking for internships, but stick with one thing when you get to a booth.
I realized I shouldn’t vary after I’ve already started the conversation. However, if they offer a full-time position, or internship option to me and I could do it, then I’d be open to it! It’s an opportunity. So, choose one thing but be flexible if you can if the opportunity presents itself.
Understand that applying to a position at the company, then researching the company sets you apart from a lot of the other persons going to those booths. Also realize that this eliminates the need for superficial discussion about the company. Realize that being seen as someone who is very prepared makes the recruiter more interested in talking to you, because now you know how the game is played and discussion can be about:
- where the company is going
- the actual position you applied for
- getting you to a person who can better describe the position
- talking about your resume, interests and qualifications
- singling you out from everyone for more investigation
- pulling you from the pool of applicants so you actually get a chance at the interview
So now I don’t ask myself, “Well what’s the point of going if they’re only going to tell me to apply online anyway?” Applying online and knowing the company IS the point. If I show that I’ve invested time in their company before showing up, they invest time and opportunity back in with me at their booth/fair. This helped me a lot in getting 3 interviews out of the 8 booths I attended and was prepared for. So for your next career fair, if you don’t do this already:
- Apply online and do the research
- Know what you want, choosing one thing, but being flexible when opportunity presents itself
Doing these has finally placed me in the ball game.
Preview: Increase your chances at getting interviews – Part 4 – Real Networking
I am going through my own first set of real networking experiences since the beginning of graduate school. Just to give a little insight – I’ve learned that what I call “real networking” is done when I connect with people who are ahead of me or are in positions of influence. The purpose of professional networking is getting ahead while establishing meaningful (and hopefully long-lasting) professional relationships – to become part of the family of professionals who benefit others in great ways. To get where I want to be, I need to connect with people who are already there and that requires due diligence, preparation and courage. I’ll update on my progress in about 2 weeks.