How to Stand Out in the Career Fair Crowd
Not too long ago I was standing haphazardly in an uncomfortable suit, hoping that I put on enough deodorant. I was in a gymnasium that felt like it was so packed, it was bound to burst at the seams. The 4,000 other students at my small engineering school were shuffling around in a stress-induced frenzy, trying to find the next company's booth on their list.
With just over a semester of college left, I had a few jobs in my mental pipeline and had applied to even more. I even had a connection at one of the opportunities I was really interested in, but the company wouldn't communicate back with me regardless of what I did. I stood in line after line with my polished resume, hoping that someone would just give me a chance. On my way out the door I saw a booth with tangling lines and thought, "man, if I could get a job there, it'd change my life". I stood in the tediously long line to chat with a company recruiter who was one of the first, that over my four years of school, actually looked at my resume and had a real conversation with me. A few weeks later, I was invited to a first-round interview with that recruiters company and my heart felt ready to explode in excitement. That company, who gave me a chance to show who I am and what I can achieve, not just who I am on paper, was Microsoft.
Now, I'm on the other side of things and believe it or not, it's also super stressful, scary, and tiring. I fly across the country twice a year to chat with amazing students and help determine whether Microsoft would be a good fit for them and visa-versa. Below you will find a few pieces of insight that I've gained by being on both sides of things.
In college, I read countless resumes, cover letters and their corresponding job postings. It started with helping my roommate with hers and it just kind of domino'ed from there. Although my school's career development center does an amazing job at prepping the masses, many candidates don't realize that the cookie cutter resumes they have made are a great stepping stone, but in order to really get noticed, you have to show your individual self. This brings me to my first tip,
Be Uniquely You
Alright, I know, this sounds cheesy, but I can't stress this enough. I've seen first hand how nervous people get at career fairs. I've seen a young man (who I knew while I was at school), dripping in sweat while chatting with me because he was so anxious regardless of having talked to me many times before. I've seen one of the most free spirited young ladies I know put on a black skirt-suit with a plain white shirt and completely mask who she is and what she stands for to try to blend in. Now, just to clarify, I'm not saying that you should wear a bright yellow crop top, torn denim shorts, and a crappy pair of flip flops (all that will show employers is that you don't really give a S!#^). I'm saying if you are a colorful person, wear a bright shirt with a plain blazer. Maybe even take the next step and wear the same color shirt of the accent color you use on your resume (or don't... but when I see things like this, I tend to remember the person).
That brings me to my next point, make your resume stand out, and please, try to keep it one page. Take all of the content on your current resume and rearrange it in a different way. What I usually tell people is to search the 'interwebs' for "creative [job title] resume" and let those be your inspiration. Let your resume represent your professional, unique, talented self.
Do your research! Do your research! Do your research! Should I say it again? Do your research! You don't need to memorize the company's entire history or know what the CEO eats for breakfast, but if you are applying for a position, you should probably know what positions they are hiring for. I'm always super impressed if I have someone come up to me and say "hi, so I was reading about Microsoft's Explorer Programs online and it sounds like exactly the experience I am looking for because of x and y. I've had z experience and taken v class so I think I would be prepared to take on the position and that I would learn a lot." Showing your passion for the company/program/position will make you stand out from the crowd for sure!
Apply Early and with Confidence
Following up on my last point, going in to a conversation with the ability to say "oh yes, I actually applied to x position earlier this week. I am really interested in it because..." shows that you are a go getter! Even if you happen to be talking to a company that will take your resume in lieu of a formal application (which is what happened to me for both my internships and full time offer), it never hurts to throw an extra hat in the ring and show you are passionate.
Speaking of being passionate... To me, exuding passion can be make or break. Why? Because if you are passionate, you are more likely to bring energy, enthusiasm, and the drive to learn to your job. You'll be more productive, happy, and friendly. What company doesn't want that in an employee? Passion also has the potential to make up for the skills you are still building. For example, I never thought I could work at Microsoft because I didn't major in computer science (or electrical engineering, or computer engineering). But, I had a passion for technology, the desire to understand customers, the ability to communicate, and I had a track record of working with cross-discipline teams.
This conveniently brings me to my next point of applying with confidence. Apply to jobs that you are interested in but may not meet 100% of the requirements. You never know what will happen. Maybe you'll bring something to the table that the recruiter/hiring manager didn't even know they wanted. Maybe that posting isn't the right fit but hey, that other guy down the hall is looking for someone with this exact background. Take the chance, you never know when it may pay off.
Although this may seem obvious, so many candidates forget to smile because they are nervous or they're on their 10000x booth visit and are just too tired to exert the energy. BUT don't forget science friends, smiling releases endorphins in your brain! You'll gain energy, confidence, and you'll likely make the person you are talking to smile too!
So, what're you waiting for? Go get em' tiger!
What side of the booth are you on? As a college student, what questions do you have? As a professional, what advice would you give? Let me know in the comments below.