The 7 Not-So-Highly Effective Habits of Career Fair-Goers

ARRA Job Fair - July 30-Aug 1, 2009

Image by Argonne National Laboratory via Flickr

As that I attended a career fair as an employer today (or yesterday rather when this gets published), I feel it’s as good of a time as any to bring up etiquette for career fairs. I won’t go into serious detail about researching companies and applying to the jobs before the career fair (and before everyone else does) – I’m hoping that’s a given. This is more of what to expect from both the people at the employer table, and what should come from you on the other side to make a (decent) memorable impression.

(Disclaimer: You can disclaim anything you’d like by saying disclaimer, but as always, these are my thoughts and opinions, and no one else can dream of taking credit for them, especially my employer. Please note this is for a said employer whose positions and job advertisements I shall no longer be posting due to internal conflict).

So I’ll start with the ’employer’ side at career fairs. There are prepared recruiters at fairs, and there’s the staff that’s dragged there and asked to do recruiting a favor. Not always the case, but depending on company size and number of recruiters left after downsizing, and you never know if the person you’re speaking to is the company lawyer (i.e. I have a tendency to recruit my OEO department to assist with OEO recruiting at these).

Some tables will have no one at it, just materials to take about the company or their jobs. Other tables will be giving away tons of things & having promotions to get attention. This generally boils down to company budget. Which leads into my personality type #1…

1. The Brazen Hand-Out Thief.

Oh yes, the not-so slick person who is obviously not looking for a job, who is immune to dirty looks – they want nothing more than your squeeze toy, pen, ruler, or IRS spray on hand sanitizer (ok the hand sanitizer one is justifiable at a hand-shaking event, especially for those loose, sweaty-hand shakes, but still…).

At one career fair someone came right up to me and said, “What do you have for me? I said, of, are you interested in heard about our jobs? And he corrected me, and said, “No, what are you giving away?” I apologized that I had nothing – so the guy stole my water bottle just to walk away with something. Some people are like that at career fairs – they’re there for the handout pens. Make sure that’s not you – even if the company you walk up to doesn’t have a job for you. You don’t need a squishy light bulb anyway.

I’m not saying don’t take the pen – I’m just saying be polite. Understand these people may not actually have any say in the hiring process, and may in fact be from completely different departments than you’d be interested in working for.

So what’s a job seeker to do?

Have a conversation. Start with the usual introductions & handshakes (which again, why this is still done in flu season bewilders me) and then ask the person a question, like, “What type of positions do you have available now?” It’s simple, easy, and although it makes the person talk, it’s a natural conversation. Walking up and delivering your elevator speech about your sales expertise – only to find out a company has accounting openings only – will make you feel silly & will leave an awkward position. Take this to the extreme, and you have rude personality #2…

2. The Talker.

While you definitely want to talk to the companies presenting at the fair and make a good impression, as with all experience in life you need to make a brief, strong, memorable impression – and then leave. Overstaying your welcome applies to the career table too. Notice ques of when the conversation is winding down, offer a card or resume, and then walk away. Dragging out the conversation will not improve your chances of candidacy if it’s not natural or there’s nothing relevant to say. The talker also is inconsiderate to others waiting in line, and just keeps trying to monopolize the table’s time…but believe it or not, you can actually make it worse by…

3. The Salesman.

Oh, you don’t have any position available at your accounting firm for a doctor? Oh, well, here’s my card in case you ever get sick, you might be glad that you have my info. I can do x, y, and z for you as well…

Now is not the time. Career fairs are not your personal sales floor, and I really doubt this will drum up business for you. More on shameless promoting here.

4. The Liar.

Well, I’m sure they would just consider themselves the ‘boaster’ or ‘exaggerator’, but still, if you don’t fit the bill for the company’s open roles – man up and move along son, move along. No point trying to twist what you’ve done…why yes, I’m an accountant, but I think the fact that I’ve done the taxes for my doctor for the last six years qualifies me for you physician role…

Now this does not negate trying to translate your wanting to change fields and explaining how your experience is relevant to the new role/field – but keep it real.

5. The Non-Talker.

Wait, didn’t I just say don’t over-talk? Well it’s not good to walk up to a table and not say enough. Especially if you’re shy and small talk isn’t your specialty – consider it good interview practice, by making strong eye contact (without leering – #6 to come) and making professional small-talk with employers. It’s not a comfortable situation for the employers to have to try to figure out what jobs they should be telling you about. They also shouldn’t have to introduce themselves to you – they have a huge sign. You know who they are – after all their name is on the pen you just pocketed.

If you find it really hard to get talking, try to open the floor to them, say their materials show they have accounting positions only. You can ask if they anticipate any openings in your area in the near future. You can ask them for a card & connect with them on linkedin if they accept, and ask them to keep you in mind if roles in your area open up. Don’t force conversation, especially if it makes you anxious. You’re better off taking it online.

You can also ask if they can pass your resume on to the sales department. Could be there are positions being recruited for that the person at the career fair doesn’t even know about. Then walk away.

You also might benefit from preparing a script of potential things you’d like to ask or say to an employer, try rehearsing it in the bathroom mirror…whatever works for you to get you talking comfortably. A slick talker with no experience can make a better impression than an expereinced phD who is…

6. The Leering Candidate.

Ahh yes, you want to talk to your dream company. You came to the career fair because your dream company was attending. You’ve been waiting for this moment for years (Hey, why have I never gone to a career fair where google was presenting? Hmmm maybe I’m on to something).

So now you’re faced with your dream company, and you’re terrified. So you wait on line, staring at the table for 10 minutes. Then you lose your bravado, and circle the table again. Then you circle the room…all the while watching the recruiters.

And they know you’re watching. You’ve officially become a creepy leering candidate. They are now probable more scared of you than you are of them. Recruiters tend to be observant people-people. Just walk up, stand your ground, and get it over with. Just try not to grovel at their feet when you get to them. And finally…

7. The Legal Nightmare…aka the career fair version of an ambulance-chaser.

If you walk up to a table and say something that will put up red-alerts that you’re looking for places to sue more than jobs, your conversations might start with one-liners like…

“Does your company have any positions open for people ‘like me’?” Or, “I’m pregnant. Will this hurt my chance at candidacy?”

It’s the career fair equivalent of putting too much personal info on a resume. Once you offer information that’s not legal for a recruiter to ask you, you might be making them uncomfortable. Or, worse, if they’re closed-minded, you might have just given them ammunition to discriminate against you.

Now I’m not saying to hide things – but there’s a time and a place for everything, although in the professional world sometimes the right time is never.

This also extends to trying the ‘cultural or racial connection’ with the employer. Don’t think that because the recruiter at the table is the same demographic as you, that they’ll want to give you any special consideration or opportunity because of it, and to imply so is on the tasteless side.

Let me end with a personal example to drive this point home.

Say I’m at a career fair, and I see google. If I walk up to them and say, “Hi, I’m Sharon, and I need to leave work early on Fridays for personal religious reasons. Is that OK?” At this point, especially if the recruiter isn’t familiar with Jews, they’d be rolling their eyes behind my back. Or rather rolling their eyes over MY head – to see the next candidate in line, as that I just removed myself from the potential employee database.

Instead, if I walk up and say, “Hi, I’m Sharon, and I am so excited to meet you. I’m a big google fan, and think the google labs are so much fun! Do you happen to have any talent recruiting or organizational development roles available now besides the ones posted on your website? I applied to that one yesterday.”  By this I’ve just opened the floor, shown some knowledge of the company, my eagerness to work for them by putting in effort before coming to meet them – and most importantly – I won’t get the brush off from them saying, “The first step all potential candidates need to do is apply online, so you can go home and go to our website, h-t-t-p-:-/-/-g-o-o-g-l-e-.-c-o-m…, ok, thanks, bye”.

Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/pWfpN-cD

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The Lousy Networking Advice of Others – Top 5 Tips to Ignore

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So back to all the holiday parties and networking events you’ll be attending this season. While lots of people have their own do’s and don’ts – here are what I think are surefire ways to make networking events a waste of time by following the type of advice they offer in Yahoo! Home Page articles. More on considerate networking in my article Hi, Nice to Meet You. Me, Me Me, Me, MeMeMe… at: http://wp.me/pWfpN-2M

1. Ask for a Reference

At networking events, some suggest asking people you respect and have had positive working relationships with ‘for a reference ‘, hoping they’ll get the hint that you’re on the market. They imply that this is less awkward than asking for help with a job search.

I think this may backfire as that people aren’t generally so forthcoming with helping others, and will mistakenly assume you have opportunities already if you need references, as that no one checks them early in the hiring game.

2. Use Elevator Speeches in Conversations, A.K.A. “30 Seconds of Bragging” 

I think they’re great ideas in general, to present subtlety in conversations at interviews. But in social, networking environments? You sound like a used car salesman, but even sadder is that you’re selling yourself. I was recently at a networking event, having a lovely conversation with someone, and then he started ‘accomplishment dropping’. I don’t know why he was compelled to give me his pitch, I started spacing, looking for other people to talk to, before I had to hear more. Did you know I’ve improved recruiting for my for my company despite a five million dollar recruiting budget cut?

 3. Offer Unsolicited Advice

No one likes to hear what they could improve or are doing wrong in life. Calling people on their “stuff” doesn’t help you make friends faster. Some take it more gratefully than others, but generally if you’re trying to get someone to help you (i.e. find a job, buy your product, etc.) complimenting them is a better approach.

At a family event, someone complained greatly about their employment situation. I suggested they try reading my blog for advice, as that hey, it’s there for that reason. The person volunteered to me that they think my blog is too negative. That I ought to have a more positive tone, and be more encouraging.

While this person meant well, all I could think was, hey, I’m offering to help you, and why don’t you write a preachy blog? See how many readers you get?

But instead I was a good girl and kept my mouth shut, and I was humbly reminded that this is why I don’t write touchy-feely self help books and stick to my ever-so-snarky blog.

 4. Hand Your Card to Everyone Who Will Take It

It’s like the people who stand on street corners handing out menus or the fliers for the shady ‘suit sale’ a few blocks over.

No one wants to take it, and if they do, they’ll be looking for the nearest garbage to toss it into and be bothered. Few will say, hey, thanks for YOU! Unless it’s a promotional item with your info. If you’re handing them a pen with your info, they might just happily pocket it and look at it again later

5. Politely Blend In & Be Quiet

No one likes the loudest person in a room, but no one notices the quietest one either.

Wear a black suit, white shirt, black shoes, bland accessories, black and white business card, and you’re guaranteed to stand out as much as a penguin in a group on penguins…which one were you again? Especially if you’re on the quieter side, now’s the time to practice speaking about your assets and let your own style stand out. Be confident and assertive in starting conversations with those who you feel you may have a potential association with. 

Throw on a brightly colored accessory, men, that’s your tie, ladies, a professional yet spunky scarf, shirt under your suit, bag, or shoes – but definitely not all of these combined. You don’t want to scare people off or give them the wrong impression that you’re one step away from more colors than the muumuu’s in a Florida retirement community…unless you’re trying to land a gig in the arts or fashion district. They allow for more flamboyance.

I Dream of Google – Getting a Job in 10 Not-So-Easy-Steps

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…but I don’t actually work there.

Noticing a lot of traffic is coming to my blog from people googling ‘google recruiter’ and ‘getting a job at google’.

Readers are confusing my blog, ambition, and talent for recruiting for being an actual google recruiter.

Yes, I’m a corporate recruiter, no, not for google (yet…).

Although I would assume the steps to getting a job there are the same as everywhere else. Here are my tips, I hope you started on this route when you were in 9th grade. Otherwise it may be too late and you might find yourself approaching 30 without the career of your dreams, but alas at least you can blog about it and know that thousands of people are in the exact same boat. Ahoy shipmates!

1. Push yourself to be the top of your class in high school, participate in extra curriculars, and learn as many languages as possible.

2. Go go a great college & get a high GPA, participate in extra curriculars, and learn as many languages as possible.

3. Do internships in the field you will work in the rest of your life (which yes you should have known and been working towards even in high school).

4. Get jobs at impressive places in that field in increasingly challenging and progressive roles and titles.

5. Then apply to their jobs at http://google.com/jobs (or wherever you want to work…like http://tinyurl.com/NYCDOEJOBS).

6. Pray a recruiter is impressed with your resume or credentials (or at least went to the same school) to put you through to a hiring manager or interview process. Or the robo-recruiter is impressed because you have a lot of the words from the job description in your resume (AKA job score) thereby automatically ranking you as a candidate worth human review in the applicant tracking system (ATS).

7. Ignore http://glassdoor.com & other similar sites. Take their comments with as much worth as amazon ratings…people will give a book one star because they don’t like the color color. If you really want to know what people who work at a place think about it, network with them and ask them politely.

Maybe google’s dropped in their ratings from the best place to work to top 3 best places to work, but hey, it gets lonely at the top. No place is perfect, but most people will only go on those websites to bash their employer anonymously. If they were happier they’d be out at happy hour with their office mates after work, not going home to rant about them online. Just Sayin’.

8. Don’t call them, they’ll call you. I’m always super impressed & revolted at the same time when candidates find my personal contact number (especially my personal cell phone). I think it shows they desperately want the job, but never have these people actually been a good fit for a role. I’m not saying not to follow up, but do it through advertised venues. Don’t go linkedin stalking. Instead find HR info from the company website, follow them on twitter, chat with them through facebook. Do not do an intellius search on them and show up at their house. They will not appreciate it.

9. No response? Better luck next time kids. Repeat process for every place you want to work at. If you only want to work at that one place and you’re waiting for the call back then stay on top of the company’s job boards to see if a role that better suits your experience is posted, or a more junior one in your field. Sometimes you need to take a step back or laterally to take a step forward later at a place you want to work.

10. Got a response? Make sure you have a dark suit you look good in, a put-together, yet naturally comfortable style, printed copies of your resume that aren’t stained, folded or wrinkled (yes I actually get those all the time…but save your money on the fancy paper and folders, those make you look more desperate nowadays, they’re just not necessary. A slightly heavier stock is nice, but I hate the resume-in-a-folder-in-a-binder-in-an-envelope old school thing). Go on the interview, be your charming, brilliant self, sell said fabulous self as rockstar without using those words, and mazal tov. It’s a job. And if you’re really lucky, maybe even a career.

Shortlink to this post: http://wp.me/pWfpN-8j

Hiring Tips from a CEO

(make that a fabulously-talented-yet-humble CEO)

Today I have my first guest blogger who’d like to anonymously share their opinion about hiring.

What’s yours? Send it over to me posts@sharon.cc and I’ll post it if I feel our faithful readers have something to gain from it.

Ever wonder what a hiring manager think when you apply for a position you’re not qualified for?

Do they think, well hey, you love kids, and want to help them, so maybe they’ll hire you to be a pediatrician even though you didn’t go to medical school? Apparently not. Here’s the real reaction: don’t over-reach if you need a job. If you’re secure and looking for a small advancement appropriate to your experience, well then good luck!

“Perhaps it is not your resume itself – rather it’s the content: do your job skills match what you are applying for?

You should realize that sometimes hundreds of people apply for the same job (although sometimes it is only a handful which may not be qualified, so don’t be discouraged completely).

If you aren’t getting interviews or responses to applications it may be that other applicants would be able to hit the ground running immediately, with little training; whereas you might seem to be a smart on paper if your resume is strong enough, but would need to be trained. 

If you know what you want to do, get an internship in the field.  Think outside of the box.  Ask people who work in the field to let you work for free.  Contact a non-profit that will let you work on your own schedule.  Call your college and speak to alumni in the field.  Ask friends and family who they know.  There are a number of non-profit organizations that can help with resumes. Start at the bottom up, with an entry level role in the field you want if necessary.

Sending a million resumes on Monster.com and other similar sites is a waste of time and energy.  Make sure your cover letter/resume matches what you are looking for. 

For instance, when I was hiring for a 10 hour a week job, I received almost 100 resumes.  People who were graduating applied and stated that they were interested in the job.  I knew they would quit the moment that a full time role was available elsewhere.  I only interviewed people who stated they were looking for a part time job and reasons why (for instance, a sophomore in college who would like to get experience to supplement education or someone looking to get back into the workforce slowly).

If you are getting interviews but not getting the job, you may need to look at your interview skills, how you come across (how do you look, how do you speak, do you have any weird mannerisms?) and how prepared you appear. Perhaps you could do mock interviews. Again, there are agencies that can help if you cannot afford to hire a professional.”

So there you have it ladies & gentlemen – a CEO is not thrilled that you’re under-qualified or not an appropriate fit but decided to waste time: both yours and theirs.

Put your energy into strong applications for positions you have a strong chance of obtaining!

Shortlink: http://wp.me/pWfpN-7g

12 Steps to a Career You Deserve


Hi my name is Sharon and I’m in a dead-end career/unemployed/underemployed….
All in unison: Hi Sharon.

Remember that you’re still the seller and that etiquette, manners, and patience will bring you much closer to your career goals than bitterness, laziness or rudeness.

1. Figure out what you’re actually qualified to do that you’d potentially enjoy, and reach within your bounds, overshooting them will be a wasted effort and give burn-out

2. Decide what type of position would suit you ideally, p/t, f/t, consulting, internship, etc.

3. Create a consistent, professional brand and profile for yourself: resumes & cover letters for various industries/target audiences, business cards, online web presence, thank you letters, elevator pitch, etc.

4. Apply to advertised jobs with targeted cover letters – I’ve seen many resumes thrown out because the objective or cover letter is targeted to a different job – make it crystal clear why you want THIS job, and why you’re qualified for THIS job, but feel free to mention what else you’d consider or to keep things broad

5. Send your resume to places you want to work, explaining why you want to work there & what positions you’d like, even if they don’t have advertised positions

6. Network with people in the industry you want to be in

7. General networking: make sure everyone you know or meet knows what you’re looking for and why

8. Follow up with sincere, personally written thank you notes to everyone who does anything for you in the process from introductions to interviews – but NEVER give a deadline or imply one, i.e., “I hope to hear from you regarding your decision by September 1” – it’s in poor taste, and perhaps it takes a month for the company to come to a decision – do you want the company to think you’re not longer interested because they couldn’t accommodate you?

9. Present your very best: have an excellent dark suit, pressed collared shirts, and classic bags/shoes/accessories/portfolios to present at interviews. Have something a little more daring for networking events to look professional but stand out of the crowd.

10. Confidence works: Interview and network like you’re everyone’s favorite person, try to figure out culture of others and tailor all responses and actions to where you are – when in Rome, do as the Romans

11. Realize that different strokes work for different folks: just because a technique landed your last job, don’t expect it to automatically work again

12. Negotiate offer, unless it’s clearly set in stone. Never expect to get more than you’ve asked for previously, and don’t expect much more than a job was advertised or offered at. Most companies figure nowasdays that they can find someone to do the job at the salary they want to pay, and they’re OK if that person isn’t you – but generally it doesn’t hurt to ask if a little more is available due to your extraordianary skills, value and talents you bring to the company. Reinstate why you want this role, why you want to work for the company, but is there any room for flexibility?

It can’t hurt – if a place rescinds your offer because you asked to negotiate you probably don’t want to work there anyway…that’s not nice!

Short link: http://wp.me/pWfpN-61

Interview With Harvard Kennedy School, OCA & Urban Policy

Image Credits: Harvard.eduRecently I did a brief interview with the Harvard Kennedy School – thought others might be interested in what Harvard cares about when placing students, and how a recruiter (me) feels about these issues. I’m sure all responses will be combined as a guide for HKS students to help them find careers, but thought non-Ivy hooked-up seekers might value the same information. Here’s an excerpt of three of the relevant questions they asked me.

What qualities or skills do you look for when hiring employees/interns?
I’m looking for someone who can walk in and do the job they’ve been hired for on day one. There are a lot of people on the market now, so even if someone went to a top school, and is capable of doing a job – we’ll still hire the person who has actually accomplished the goals we’re seeking, rather than someone we need to train.
Also I’m looking for a fit for the department they will be working in. A polite tone in their resume and cover letter goes a long way, as do manners when called about an application. Far too often people are rude or haughty to recruiters or hiring managers, and disqualify themselves accidentally.

What kind of experience or background do you like to see in potential hires?
We want experience in the requirements for the jobs we hire for. Industry and background are less important to me when screening resumes. For example, if I need a communications writer (which I do!), I’m looking for someone who has significant communications professional experience, regardless of where they did it or which employer they did it for. Internships are not enough.
Also I work within Civil Service requirements, so our minimum qualifications are not flexible. If it says “3 years accounting experience needed” please do not waste your time & ours by applying because “My three years working in the Mayor’s office as a lawyer were sitting next to the accounting department.” Do not apply to jobs you are not qualified for. No one will hire someone to be a doctor if they didn’t go to medical school; so too no one is hiring someone to be an Accounting Manager if they’re never done accounting!

How can Kennedy School students set themselves apart in the job search process?
I find a lot of top school graduates expect their school name to get them a job – but there are a lot of top school grads on the market. I want to see a brief yet targeted cover letter to a position. Use similar terminology from the job description to parallel the job skills you offer.
Yes, write that you worked as a communications writer for 4 years prior to going to grad school, that writing is your expertise, and that is why you want my communications position.
No, do not write a typical cover letter that tells me nothing about what you’ve done or can do. I’ve gotten the below cover letter, and multiple variations of it more than once:
“As you can see in the enclosed resume, I have a very strong professional background. I know that I could make a significant and valuable contribution in your company. My interest is to be a valuable employee on your team. I am confident I can make an immediate contribution to your team. Enclosed, please find a copy of my credentials. I understand the level of professionalism, excellent communication, and appearance required for success in your company. I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss how my education and experience will be helpful to you. An interview would be greatly appreciated at which time I could elaborate on my background as well as acquire further information about how career services provided specific responsibilities. Thank you in advance for your attention and consideration.”

Also, if a candidate has an interview, write a thank you note the next day – again not one from google that I’ve received more than once. Genuinely thank the person you met for their time and consideration.

You Lost Me At Hello – Interview Scheduling Manners

If I see one more article called “Acing the Phone Interview” I’m going to scream. These are my Top 5 Pet Peeves.

Think of trying to get a job like you would blind dating. If you don’t make a good impression on the first phone call, you won’t get to the first date. Don’t make mistakes of turning off a potential employer at the start, because it can easily be done. If the call ends in, “actually the hiring manager’s calendar is really full at the moment now that I look, we’ll call you if any availability shows up,” then you’ve already blown it. Attempt damage control (will visit that topic another time) and keep your dignity. There are other fish (*ahem) jobs in the waters.

I wish I didn’t have to say these things, and wish we were all perfectly courteous all the time, but we’re human, and in my geographic case, we’re New Yorkers, and we’ve got attitude. Just be sure to curb it until your first year or so or until you have the big office in the corner. Then you can bite off whoever’s head you’d like and take the years of frustration from holding back out on your inferiors. Ignore my advice, and you may never make it to the cubicle!

1. Mind your ringback tone and voicemail. If I hear cursing in the song on your ringtone, or on your answering machine, you’re not getting an interview.

I’ll never forget when I called to schedule a director interview on speakerphone in front of the executive director they would have reported to, and their ringtone was Kanye West’s “Heartless.” Needless to say the ED decided he didn’t need a Director who was hurting so badly over a breakup that they’d be that unprofessional. They disqualified themselves without ever knowing it – we didn’t leave a message.

2. Always answer your phone politely! Obviously a call from a company that you applied to will be either an unknown caller or restricted number. It might be a telemarketer, but it also might have been your future boss who disqualified you due to your rude or suspicious tone answering the phone.

I find it entertaining when I hear someone’s tone change from apprehension to excitement when they realize they’re getting called about a position they applied to. Just be cool people, it’d be more impressive.

3. Always feel comfortable to ask questions about a position, but never let salary be question number one. No one likes a gold-digger. Let conversation flow towards benefits & compensation, and hope the scheduler shares it with you. If they don’t go on the interview anyway, interview experience is always great.

4. Learn from your own mistakes. If a call or interview goes poorly or if you are not invited on to the next stage of gaining employment then try to troubleshoot yourself or with a trusted friend. Figure out what to do next time to make a better impression.

5. Remember that you’ve got the lower hand. You want to make a good impression and sway the person calling you to like you. You never know who they are within a company, and whether or not they have influence. The same for those who sit at the front desk when you come in, the first round interview and the HR folk in general. Say or do one inappropriate thing at any time, and you might even find an offer of employment rescinded if you offend anyone.