Tuesday, October 13, 2015

7 mistakes you're making when attending a career fair

Things you SHOULDN'T do when you're trying to land a job.

One of the cool things I’ve had the opportunity to do with my job is attend career fairs at my alma mater, Iowa State University (Go Cyclones!), as a recruiter. I was on the opposite end of it, looking for jobs when I was a student, so it’s really cool to see the view from the other side of the table. Being on the recruiting side has actually taught me more about what to do and what not to do as a student than I ever learned from attending the fairs as an applicant. It’s very interesting to see how students dress and prepare and pitch themselves when looking for jobs or internships, and after three fairs as a recruiter, I thought it was time to share a list of 7 mistakes you might be making when you’re trying to get hired.
1. Not dressing appropriately. This one, I thought, should be very clear-cut and obvious. As they say, if you have to ask, the answer is probably no. But I have seen students come to these fairs in everything from full suits to jeans and T-shirts. Any idea which one makes a better impression on recruiters? I don’t think it’s always necessary to don a full suit for a career/intern fair, but dress pants are never a bad idea in a professional setting. Things you definitely SHOULDN’T wear: T-shirts, ripped jeans, flip flops, tight skirts/dresses, short skirts or dresses and club heels. Ladies, remember this very important tip: If you would wear it to the bars, do not wear it to an interview or career fair!

2. Making awkward eye contact. Holding eye contact with the person you’re speaking to shows confidence, but you don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. I spoke with a guy who kept staring at me with a sort of suggestive look on his face, and it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Don’t confuse eye contact with staring or pleasantly smiling with smirking. Try to keep your expression casual yet attentive.

3. Not having a sales pitch. One of the most unattractive things students do when they come up to talk to me is immediately ask me to explain the company or wait for me to start the conversation. If you are looking for a job/internship, you should be prepared to sell yourself. Start by introducing yourself, shaking hands and then going straight into your “elevator pitch.” Tell the recruiter what year and major you are, what you’re looking for and what qualifies you for that role. Try to keep it under 30 seconds and try to end it with an engaging question to get the recruiter interested in helping you. Don’t ask them to start the conversation, because the last thing you want to do is sound like you’re doing them a favor by being there.

4. Not researching the companies. If you’re planning to attend a career/intern fair, do your research! I hate it when students come up to my table and obviously have no idea what my company does. The information is out there, and if you're not willing to take 10 minutes to sit down and learn about the company, I probably don’t want you on my staff. I’m always impressed by the students who have clearly studied the company and know exactly what questions to ask.

5. Asking the company what they can do for you. As a student — or anyone looking to be hired, really — you should never treat a company as if it needs you. You should always be able to tell a recruiter what YOU can do for THEM, not the other way around. You probably need this job or internship, but the company probably has dozens of applicants for that position. Confidence is not the same thing as cockiness, and the latter will always result in a bad first impression. 

6. Not putting effort into your resume. Even in a creative industry like journalism, I still see students bring in resumes that were clearly created in Word and based off a generic template. This is a huge turn-off! Your resume is a reflection of you, and when a recruiter has a pile of them sitting in the office, the bland (i.e., too simple and empty) ones are the first to go. Take the time to design a strong resume, edit it about 10 times, and then print it on resume paper. I hate it when students turn in boring resumes on regular printer paper — why should I hire you for a creative position when you can’t be bothered to make a creative resume for yourself?

7. Eating or chewing gum. I honestly can’t believe this one is on here, but I saw it so much at the last fair I went to that I felt it needed to be. Here’s the story: The booth next to me brought cookies to offer students who came to talk to them, which is cool. But I saw SO MANY of those students take a cookie and proceed to eat it while they were talking to the recruiter about a job. This is a huge faux pas! If you want to take a cookie, by all means go ahead, but don’t eat it until you’ve left the table, and certainly don’t take it to the next company’s table. If you’re really hungry, step outside for a couple minutes to eat. Your mouth should never — I repeat NEVER — be full of food when you’re trying to prove to someone why they should hire you.

Do you have any tips for making a good first impression at career fairs/interviews? What would be your turn-offs if you were hiring someone? I'd love to hear...

P.S. How to be productive while working from home, taking time to detox and 5 favorite blogging tools

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