A few weeks ago I traveled back to my alma mater to recruit some students for co-op and full-time positions available at various locations throughout my company. For the first time I was going to experience what it was like to stand on the employer side of the booth at a Career Fair. Chris Gammell, the good guy that he is, gave me some tips on getting through the day in one piece which came in quite handy. Fast forward to today and I can tell you that working a Career Fair is exhausting. I had fun and definitely plan on doing it again but I would almost say it’s easier to be the one looking for a job.
Regardless of how I feel personally about working Career Fairs, standing in that Field House all day I did see a few pitfalls that students fell into. Bearing in mine I’m not even close to a recruitment expert, read on for my take on what you the student can do to improve your game, standout, and sell yourself better to employers while attending a Career Fair. In no particular order they are:
- Check out these tips from Chris Gammell. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
- His post gives a lot of good advice and I pretty much agree with what he has to say (except for #4 when it comes to candy, that’s fair game) . Following his tips will definitely take you a long way when it comes it impressing potential employers.
- Format your resume so it’s easy to read.
- I looked at a lot of resumes during the 5 hours I was the Career Fair, a lot. There were long ones, short ones, pretty ones, and ugly ones. Some with one font, two fonts, red fonts, blue fonts. Okay, maybe that last part was a little bit of an exaggeration but I liked the Dr. Suess rhythm I had going. You’re only talking to an employer for a few minutes at most and those couple of minutes should be a discussion between you two rather than awkward fumbling and pointing as you try to locate and point out some portion of your resume after it’s come up in conversation.
- Try and keep it to one page with only the most relevant information about yourself on it. Instead of listing every single course you’ve taken in school focus on work experience, skills, and projects you’ve done.
- Highlight your big accomplishments that make you unique.
- This goes along with my above point about relevant info on your resume. If you’re an upper level EE an employer should be able to assume you’re familiar with basic circuit theory. Showcasing the EE101 Resistor Divider Lab that everyone in 3 departments has to take is not making you stand out.
- Have you taken a difficult elective not many others do? Were you also passionate about the work you did in that class? Talk about that instead.
- VLSI and IC design course tend to really make you jump out to semiconductor companies. I know from both working the Career Fair and from my own job hunting experience. A hard copy of your layout will make even the toughest recruiter take you more seriously.
- Did you solve a particularly interesting problem on an old internship or co-op? Be sure to mention that if it doesn’t come up on its own.
- Work on projects or study topics on your own or as part of a club? Those are both worth their weight in gold when it comes to standing out as it shows you’re passionate about the work you do and are self motivated. There’s also the possibility that a strong interest in your field outside of your required course work can make up for a less than stellar GPA or lack of on the job experience.
- Be honest about what you like.
- Our table was cluttered with all sorts of circuit boards and demo projects. Some were eval boards showcasing parts in our catalog and others were customer boards that had parts from our company designed in. Telling me one minute you like to design and work with electronics is one thing. However, if the next minute you’re not so much as batting an eye when I dig out an old intern project that has you doing just that doesn’t bode well for you. If you’re not thrilled about working with hardware (or software, or embedded systems, or MEMs, or whatever) don’t lead the recruiter on. It just wastes everyone’s time and it’s easy to see through.
- Introductions are important.
- You may not be the most outgoing person in existence and that’s okay. What’s not however is looking at the ground and mumbling your name during an introduction. The venue is going to be noisy to begin with and if the recruiter can’t catch your name after the first or second try it’s going to be tough not to put your resume in the pass pile. It’s sad but it’s true.
- Speak up, speak clearly, make eye contact, and have a firm handshake. It’s simple things like that which can make you stand out after a recruiter has been on their feet all day dealing with Low-Talkers.
- Come across as someone who is fun to work with.
- There was a second year student looking for their first co-op who whipped out a plate of homemade cookies and offered them to all of us at the booth after we were done talking to him. That’s good stuff. We laughed, thanked him for offering, and once he was gone bumped his resume up a few spots on our list. Do you have to do something that extreme? No, but giving the impression working with you isn’t going to be hell counts for a lot.
- Do at least some research as to who is looking to hire someone with your skills.
- I work for an analog IC company. If you didn’t know that going into the Fair it was printed on our gigantic sign and the table was cluttered with all manner of circuit boards. The Co-op Office website had the list of majors we were interested in and so did the packets of info each student got upon entering the Fair. Odds are good we aren’t going to have openings for astronomers if all our material screams EE’s Wanted (yes, I was actually asked that).
- If a company catches your eye you didn’t know existed until right that moment it’s okay to approach them and ask for more information, that’s why they’re at the Career Fair. There is however, a right and a wrong way to go about doing it.
- Student A: “Hey, I’m an EE. What positions are available?” Isn’t going to cut it when there are people out there who are actually interested whatever the company does.
- Student B: “Hi, my name is … I don’t know much about your company but I see your booth is covered in circuit boards. I really like working with electronics and would like to learn more about possibly getting a job with you guys.” This is almost word for word how a student introduced themselves to me at the Fair and it’s a great example of how to approach a previously unheard of company.
- Needless to say Student B got much more of my time than Student A did.
- Don’t let employers push you around.
- This tip is just something I encountered back when I was a student and want to pass along. On two occasions I had recruiters telling me how I was going to change my whole co-op schedule around and what courses to take to work for them, after we had already established they stretched the truth about having hardware positions available. In these cases I politely interrupted the recruiter, said I wasn’t interested, and asked for my resume back if they hadn’t written on it (yes, it’s okay to do that once in a while).
- Just as you shouldn’t waste an employers time they should be wasting yours. It’s better to spend your time with companies that might actually have something for you (see also point #1 from Chris’ post).
Well there you have it, my take on Career Fairs and how you can avoid some of the mistakes that I witnessed during my first recruiting assignment. As I go out to other colleges and spend more time evaluating potential full-time and co-op candidates I’ll come back and revise and add to the list.
Got any other tips for student job hunters? Did I miss the mark on any of my points? Just have a humorous Career Fair story from either side of the booth? Sound off in the comments.