Career fairs are a place of desperation akin to speed dating. The people there are looking for just the right match. At the end of the night they might settle for someone less qualified to fulfill their needs, but they are all searching for mister or miss or missus right. The vendors stand there at their tables while the hapless, jobless masses filter through the room. Thirty seconds is all the masses have to make an impression. Thirty long, drawn-out seconds. A person up for the honor of being homeless right out of college might look into the expectant face of a potential employer’s representative and compress into five seconds something that should have been drawn out over that full thirty seconds. The representative will attempt to decipher this, veterans don’t seem to have any trouble but those reps new to the career fair might require a few minutes. A shaken and freshly crumpled resume is then thrust from the hand of the spastic speaker into the reluctant representative’s grasp where they discover the person is in no way qualified for the work they’re offering. The future hobo sags as they walk away, the representative apologizes but looks to the next round of speed dating for work. In the end everyone feels dejected. Don’t be like that. Learn from my experience.
I waltzed into the all-majors career fair shortly before lunch. My interest there was largely academic, though I must admit to being a bit job-curious. The first thing I did was review the very helpful map and guest list. It’s an easy way to avoid getting stopped by career fair bozos. Let me take a moment now to define a career fair bozo. A career fair bozo is essentially the most lecherous guy doing speed dating. He comes on way to strong but doesn’t have anything to really offer for it. In this career fair the bozo’s were people advertising for 12 dollar an hour factory jobs. I’m not talking about foreman positions at factories, I’m talking about straight blue collar work that you could get out of high school. That was immediately marked off the list and set up to be ignored and avoided. Next I marked off things I simply wasn’t qualified for which was simple because they listed the majors they were interested in next to the name of the company soliciting applications on the guest list. Accounting, any form of engineering, etc. were all stricken from the list. Then the jobs I was technically qualified for but didn’t have any interest in were sort of hazily scrubbed from the list. By doing this I ensured that I wouldn’t have the embarrassment that the above example had when approaching someone I knew wasn’t interested in my degree. This isn’t to say this is fool proof. I went to speak with the Hewlett Packard representative about what kind of work they might have for someone with my degree and they informed me they were only looking for Computer Science majors, which was not what had been printed on my map. I will also admit that I largely wanted to talk to them because I thought their free stuff might include a flash drive. It did not. It included mints that they wouldn’t give me because of my degree.
The next step is to approach someone. This can be a delicate operation. One does not simply rush in to meet a potential employer. Especially if that representative is already speaking to someone or a group of people. In the case of a sociological experiment into how fast you can get someone to intentionally lose your application, this is a great method for testing. If there is a line of people waiting to talk to someone, being polite and waiting to make your impression is much better than barging in front of the other people. No one wants to stand in line however, so it pays to look around. I looked at the few booths I was actually interested in and discovered that the PeaceCorps. representative was unencumbered by the strains of a line. I approached and introduced myself. The trick to a good introduction is not to care if they remember you or not. This is a small part of getting a job, but if you mess it up they will remember you for all the wrong reasons. If you don’t tie your ego to the ballast of a potential job then you don’t have to worry about a crisis of identity while in the midst of a crisis of financial stability. Be polite, be original, be on topic, be under thirty seconds, be interested but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you don’t care you relax and say what you had planned to say. If you’re polite they will appreciate it because manners seem to be a surprisingly sparse commodity at these things, at least right before lunch. If you have something interesting to say that you can tie in to what you want to do for their company, then do it in a thirty second burst and you’ll make a great impression. It isn’t easy and it takes practice but it helps. For instance, the Peace Corps. representative and I got to discussing comedy that lead into a more in depth overall discussion of what I could do in the Peace Corps.
I talked to a total of five people at the fair. Two stopped me because they were taking all majors and I feel it is important to impress upon you the incredible necessity of being polite when disinterested. The first that I wasn’t interested in was for one of those for-profit type schools though the representative insisted that they weren’t a for-profit school. He went on and on about how they had a masters program in my field and how wonderful an option it would be for me. My current university has one of the top rated graduate programs in my field of study. Should I decide to seek a graduate degree, I would first seek it here, then at other schools where the degree would actually mean something more than I have a very expensive piece of paper that says I’m a smartie. I did not say any of this to the man. I simply smiled, nodded, asked questions and took the free stuff he offered. If I had been rude to him or made a scene in some other way and that scene or rudeness had been witnessed by someone I wanted to speak with, then I would have doomed myself. By being polite to everyone there, I created a positive attitude that could be read by others even while sarcasm boiled inside.
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