Social Awkwardness at Career Fairs

People don’t actually get jobs out of things like this, do they? Everyone is just here for free pens and to satisfy class requirements, right? Oh look, popcorn, maybe I should start there.

These were the thoughts running through my mind as I entered the all-majors career fair. I thought I was prepared for this, having worked in a professional environment for almost three years, but I was wrong.  My social anxiety and awkwardness flared up big time as I made a loop around the room trying to peek at the names of companies without making eye contact with the recruiters so they wouldn’t talk to me.  I was obviously not as prepared as I thought.

Finally I took a deep breath and dove in, admittedly into what could be considered the kiddy pool.  One of the booths near the door was for DHS, where my dad works in Little Rock.  I walked up and introduced myself with the “tell me about yourself” speech we worked on in class, mentioned my connection to the department, and asked what kind of positions they were looking to fill.  My personal connection to the department made it easier for me to approach the recruiters, so they served as a comforting starting point.  I also left with a lot of information and free stuff.

I stopped by a couple more familiar booths as a part of my “warm-up.”  I was happy to see a booth for a summer camp that I actually attended as a kid.  I shared some stories with the recruiter and he excitedly invited me to consider returning as a counselor.  I also visited the Arkansas Teacher Corps and recognized the recruiter from when she had talked to our class.  We talked about some of the things she had mentioned before, and I expressed some concerns I had, which she happily addressed.  I was sufficiently warmed up and ready to move on to bigger and scarier booths.

After a recent class discussion about Verizon Wireless, I decided to stop by their booth.  I shook the recruiters hand and jumped right into my “tell me about yourself” speech about how I was an English major, but also had experience in banking and supervisory roles.  My spiel ended up working out for me because they were actually looking to fill positions in their accounting department.  I left my résumé and walked away from the booth with my head held high.

Here’s the thing about the “tell me about yourself” spiel: I didn’t encounter anyone that actually uttered the words “tell me about yourself.”  What actually happens is you walk up to a booth and tell the recruiter your name, and then there is this moment where you feel like someone should say something, and they are just staring at you, and you get this feeling that you have already messed up.  At least, that’s how it went for me.  In that millisecond of silence, I had to decide whether to ask them about their company or tell them about myself, and something inside my head told me I should already know about their company, so there was only one other thing I could do.  And this is where the “tell me about yourself” spiel comes in.

In some cases, like at the Verizon booth, it worked really well.  Telling the recruiter about yourself alleviates the silence and can also make you come across as confident and self-assured.  It also quickly lets the recruiter know if you would be a good fit for their company.  If your introduction contains the right information and is presented effectively, the results are really satisfying.

Other times my spiel just completely fell flat.  That is what happened when I went to the booth for the Arkansas Department of Education.  As soon as I started, I could tell this was the wrong impression to give.  What did my banking experience have to do with education?  I struggled to the end of my intro and asked the recruiter what brought him to the career fair.  “I’m here to talk about the different paths to teacher licensure,” he says.  Of course.  Literally anything else I could have said about being an English major and my interest in the Teacher Corps would have made a better introduction than what I had given.  I rallied and talked about my possible interest in teaching and my previous plan to enter the MAT program, but my poor introduction made the rest of the conversation slightly more awkward than it needed to be.

For my first career fair, I guess it could have been worse, and it can’t possibly be as awkward next time, right? My advice to others attending their first career fair would be 1) don’t be afraid to start somewhere you feel comfortable.  Sometimes it is easier to talk about a personal connection to take some of the attention off of you.  And, 2) be prepared to tweak your introduction based on the company you are addressing.  This might seem obvious, but in an environment such as this it is easy to settle into a routine.

Career fairs can be awkward for sure, but you will likely leave with popcorn and a bag of free stuff, if not a job.



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