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”.

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

SAN DIEGO (April 26, 2007) - A member of the U...

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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.

Being a Sore Layoff Loser

Women in a Publix grocery store: Tallahassee, ...

Image by State Library and Archives of Florida via Flickr

Lost your job?

That sucks.

But it doesn’t mean you have to lose your life. If anything the opposite, now you have time for one.

I’ve heard it a few times voiced a few ways, but altogether it’s a sad statement – I’m not going to my college reunion…holiday party…local grocery store because I don’t have a job. I even heard someone was afraid to go to a wedding, for fear that she didn’t have a good response to, “What are you doing nowadays?”

So I guess the sad answer would be, “I haven’t been doing much since I got laid off…just applying to jobs here & there with no response.” Then skulk away into the masses where you belong at the bar.

The too-truthful answer you can’t give would be, “Please pass the bean dip. I’m desperate for a job. Can you get me hired where you work?” (But hey, if your hostess is socially inappropriate enough to serve bean-anything at a social occasion then perhaps it’s an awkward enough crowd that you could pull off that statement?)

So how about this holiday season, try for  a happy, socially appropriate medium. Don’t be ashamed that you lost your job, so did another 10% at least of people you know most likely. Speak up about your need when asked what you’re doing, it’s not a thing to be shy about. No one will offer to help you if you don’t know they need it. And now that you don’t have to get up early in the morning, you have plenty of time to socialize the night away.

 Look at every party or occasion as a chance to network. ALWAYS have your card on you, but never pass is around inappropriately. Yes, there are those t-shirts everyone’s been selling online saying things like ‘hire me’ or ‘I need a job’, but most people don’t have the confidence or the wanting to wear any slogan t-shirt to party – but if you’re up for it, I doubt it’ll hurt your job prospects and makes an easy conversation starter.

Try working the fact that you’re looking for an opportunity into conversations, but be careful not to be too self-depreciating. Unless you’re generally sarcastic enough to pull it off, it’ll come across as desperate as you are (just kidding…sort of…see what I mean?).

Maybe try, “Can I get you a drink? I sure could use one since I lost my job…heard of any good roles around?”

Besides, you do know not to eat bean dip or other ‘difficult’ foods at parties by now, right? Well now you do. You’ll pick up some smoked fish on the way home and enjoy that smell all for yourself.

And just maybe your friend’s coworker Russel, the guy who got too drunk at the holiday party and got fired, will need a backfill. Yup he’s the same guy that ate the fish and bean dip!

Care to Share With the Class? Want to write for Sharon.cc?

I’ve developed Sharon.cc as a Social Good platform. It’s not a business, it’s a collaborative site which helps people, companies, and places optimally market themselves.

Would you like an outlet for your career advice, job search struggles, free resume critique (anonymously published of course) or anything else you’d like to share?

Guest posters & interviews are encouraged – just send me what you’d like to share with my readers & I’ll post it if I feel they’ll benefit from it.

Also feel free to subscribe or follow me on twitter @sharondotcc to automatically be notified of new articles!

You want to work in HR by choice? Seriously? Well…if you’re sure…here’s how…

Someone posed this question, and I thought it might benefit others to share on the topic.

I’d like to break into the HR field. I’m pursuing my BA currently. What majors or certifications would you recommend I obtain to find a strong position in the field when I graduate?

I’m sure many employers look for HR certifications, or I can’t imagine why they’d be so popular.

That being said, I have never come across a resume/application for a position where this was a deciding factor.

I’ve yet to see a resume with no relevant experience or education, but has HR certifications – and see the candidate be seriously considered for a  position.

On the flip side, I’ve never seen a great resume with strong relevant education & experience that was not seriously considered because they did NOT have HR certificates…but hey, could be this happens other places.

Majors: a business or liberal arts degree ought to suffice if complimented by internships or junior positions in the field. Depending on what type of HR environment you’d like to work in, you might want to major in something relevant to that, as opposed to an HR degree (which not every university offers). If you decide later on that you’d rather work in a different area (say accounting) a general degree would be more helpful than a specified one.

Very few HR leaders I’ve met knew they wanted to work in HR (like me!). They generally fall into it from other roles or positions. Even within HR there are many types of roles from benefits, employee relations, recruiting (yay), union relations, diversity specialists, generalists (who deal with everything), payroll, timekeeping, leaves…you get the point.

Taking a position or internship while in school is my best advice. Had I not done social work internships, I would be a social worker now. I only needed one more year of school to have my MSW, but upon working in various social work environments I realized it was not the type of challenge I would enjoy long term.

Before you plan your life around a career you have yet to experience, try it out (paid or not). It might help you specify the area you’d like to focus on, or like in my case, save you from wasting time and pigeon-holing yourself in the career realm.

Final note on certifications: Many are expensive, require annual payment, membership renewals, or maintenance to keep the certifications. In the end they’re a business. Many people will write “six sigma black belt certification obtained” as that they no longer maintain it, but once they’ve achieved it and put it on their resume, it satisfies their goal.

*Exception tip: Once you’re working in a field, many employers will pay for you to obtain certifications & allow you to do them on work time. If so I definitely recommend this! It can’t take away from your resume, and will broaden your network and skills without losing time or money. Talk to your employee development person or someone from HR to see if your employer allows for this.

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Mission: Meet the Kardashian Sisters & Coach them?

Edited Image via Gawker.com

So in my path towards of life coaching I’ve worked with severely socially & physically handicapped individuals. I’ve helped them to find careers, a place within their community, and comfort in their own skin.
Now how do you do that for those who, as my friend Cathy so lovingly put it, do this for people who, “Have built an empire on based on the size of their assets?”

Oh, not just the Kardashian sisters, also their bodyguard, Hector. He’s my new boy. We had a little chat, which is what brought me into this challenge (oh that and my fierce love of healthy competition). I spoke with him on the radio (yes FM, not AM, I’ll be mature in my next life. Maybe.). Unless it says something about my maturity that I’ve never watched an entire reality show, and specifically never saw the Kardashian’s one, although now I might be on one on E! EEEEEEEEEEK!

Not sure who was listening last night to me on the radio, but I pretty much got this gig by promising to help the bodyguard find a career path, as that he doesn’t want to be in the ‘security’ field for the rest of his life.

So I guess I needed a little entertainment in my life. Will keep you all updated. Worst case I’ll just be clubbing VIP style for a night.

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