I couldn’t help but notice the thousands of people all dressed up a few weeks ago at Syracuse University, where I currently attend school. It actually caught me by surprise. Individuals I could have never imagined in suits and heels looked like they were ready to take Wall Street by storm.
No, these young’ns weren’t attending an early graduation or meeting their dates for a formal. They dressed to impress company representatives at an annual job fair.
A few years ago, I accidentally stumbled into an information session hosted by a prestigious defense company. My attire: jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt. At the end of the presentation, the recruiter specifically pointed me out, let me cut the line of people waiting to speak with him and asked me if I was a high-caliber student. After saying I thought I was, he gave me his card and told me to email him my résumé. I don’t know what impressed him, but for some reason, my attire and informality stood out to him.
I may be in the minority on this one, but I think that job fairs are very overrated. Recruiters collect thousands of résumés and meet twice as many people throughout their stays. As the day progresses, so too does their fatigue. Furthermore, very rarely do the recruiters and representatives make the final decision when it comes to hiring. They likely won’t even do the actual interviewing.
As far as campus recruitment goes at the university level, I landed an internship at JP Morgan Chase last summer simply by submitting my résumé to Syracuse’s online database. I didn’t attempt to attend company information sessions or reach out to people within the firm. I didn’t know who my recruiter was. My first contact with him came when he gave me my offer after the interviewing process.
On the other hand, I have friends who spent months “speaking” with recruiters and interviewers, hoping it would all benefit them in the end. Unfortunately, they were sadly disappointed. In a formal recruitment setting, particularly in universities, the old school way still rules. Even now, the people with the best résumés will get the interviews.
Many students and job seekers become self-conscious and even leave their comfort-zone when interacting with folks at these fairs. A friend of mine once told me, “Man, I did awful at the fair. I gave a weak handshake and stumbled while introducing myself. And then I turned red and got the heck out of sight and stayed in a corner the rest of the night.”
My advice to my friend and others out there: Stop handling career events like you’re at your grandparents’ house! Treat them like another social occasion. Be cool. Be yourself.
A survey conducted by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. found that job fairs are least helpful in landing employment.
“Job fairs are particularly ineffective in recessions,” Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger said. “Fairs are heavily attended by job seekers and lightly attended by employers.”
The representatives you see this year likely won’t be the same ones you see next year. I remember attending a career reception a few years back, where I met tons of recruiters from various companies that interested me. Now, either many of the companies I spoke with are not recruiting anymore or their recruiting staff has been cut.
Despite the latest optimistic forecasts made by leading economists, we are still feeling the reverberations of the deepest recession in history. There is a great deal of hesitation in all industries, which explains current unemployment conditions. Hence, the term “jobless recovery.”
“Many of the employers that do attend are seeking very low-level workers, volunteers or unpaid sales representatives/franchisees who would have to be prodigious sellers to make a living wage,” Challenger said.
Look out for other smaller opportunities where you can actually have a decent conversation with someone of importance. Many times, guest speakers at special presentations are also on the lookout for those bright individuals who could add value to their company. Use clubs and organizations to your advantage.
The key to finding that right internship is networking. The worst thing you can do is take a job fair too seriously. Networking is not putting on a $500 dress and attending a cocktail party – or in this case, a job fair. Networking does not mean speaking with a recruiter for two minutes and dropping off your résumé. Rather, it’s something you do the moment you wake up every day.
Nowadays, there are so many different ways to network. Online classifieds and social networking have become the hottest trends. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have helped me tremendously throughout the years. Craigslist and Monster.com have become the go-to sites for job searching.
Networking is huge, but you must keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Do not forget the traditional forms of job-hunting: cold calling and cold emailing, informational sessions and newspapers. Use them all.
“It is important to remember that the job search is a multifaceted process,” Challenger said. “Those who rely on just one tool, even if it is networking, will take longer to find a position. The problem with the ease and accessibility of the Internet is that many job seekers make it their primary job search tool.”
With so many people attending job fairs, it’s nearly impossible to be noticed. That’s why if I attend one, I’ll be wearing jeans and a hoodie when I hand out my résumés.
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