Or, "What I Know Now About Recruiting That I Wish I'd Known Then"

Your heart is pounding. Your freshly printed resume trembles in your hand. The stiff collar of your dress shirt threatens to strangle you as you clear your throat, trying hard not to forget your lines. The line shuffles forward as, one by one, your competition takes their turns. It’s the job fair – and that recruiter is the only thing standing between you and your dream job. How can you stand out among all of the others?

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on both sides of that dreaded job fair line, both as a hopeful applicant and, later, as a recruiter on behalf of my company. Oh, the things that I have learned from my experience on the other side of the table. Here is my take on what you can do to make the right impression, without being memorable for all the wrong reasons.

 1. Practice good hygiene

This may sound too basic to list, perhaps even laughable, but you’d be amazed at what a recruiter experiences throughout the day. This step belongs at number one on the list. Brush your teeth, take a shower, comb your hair, and check to be sure that lunch isn’t lingering between your teeth or on your breath. Breath mints can go a long way toward making a positive impression (but please, spit out the gum before you get to the front of the line!). Also, sweaty palms may be unavoidable, but please take a second to wipe your hand before you extend it. Honestly, I won’t judge you for a quick brush against your pant leg before you shake my hand. I will, however, be distracted if my hand squishes in your palm – possibly even too distracted to catch your name. It’s gross and, since you’re the 300th hand that I’ve shaken today, I’m starting to think about germs and worry about catching the flu.

Business suitCredit: By Paul Goyette (http://www.flickr.com/photos/pgoyette/168076182/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsJob fairs are hectic and there is a lot of running around from one booth to another (or, in the case of college job fairs, squeezing in a quick visit between classes), but do take the extra time to tidy up your appearance before you introduce yourself. Help me to focus on what you have to say and why you’re a great candidate, not on something green in your teeth or a particularly foul odor.

2. Show some personality

A job fair is a very, very long day (or string of days) for the recruiters. We meet a lot of people, spend many hours on our feet, and want to give the last applicant as much energy and attention as the first person. It can be exhausting. It’s also challenging to remember the great candidates that you met throughout the day. Because of this, you’ll want to stand out in a positive (but not overwhelming) way. Try to be personable and treat the encounter as a conversation, not an interrogation. This is a few minutes for you to let your personality shine. Do whatever works for you – if you are funny, feel free to use some humor in the conversation. If you tend to be more serious, give a pleasant smile as you introduce yourself. Don’t force anything – just allow yourself to relax and be yourself. The recruiters aren’t necessarily head-hunters – in many cases we are full-time employees of the company just volunteering our time at the job fair, so you’ll want to come across as someone with whom we’d enjoy working.

3. Know your resume

It’s tempting to look down at your resume as you talk to the recruiter, but don’t hide behind the piece of paper. If you start reading the lines to me, I might wonder how much of your resume is fact and how much is fiction. After all, it’s supposed to be the story of your career, right? It’s fine if you want to point out a few items of interest as I scan over it, but for the most part, save the reading for the recruiter.

In addition to knowing your resume, be able to answer any questions that may come up about the content. If you listed relevant coursework, don’t stare blankly when asked about a particular class. If you claim to be fluent in a language, be prepared to demonstrate it. Know what is on your resume and be able to back it up with good examples and demonstrated abilities.

4. Know the company

Companies want to hire employees that are genuinely enthusiastic about their products. You don’t have to be an expert in every company that you visit at a job fair, but at least do a little bit of homework – especially for the companies that you’ll be primarily targeting. For the bigger companies, have an idea of what the company does and what types of employees they might be looking for. If it’s a startup, it’s okay to not be familiar with the company – but at least be able to ask some intelligent questions (more on that in the next point). You will go a long way towards making a good impression if you can demonstrate that you’ve done some research and are genuinely interested in that particular industry.

Interview handshakeCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/buddawiggi/5987710858/Believe me, we see all types of people at job fairs – and it’s fairly obvious which candidates fit into which category. Some are casting a wide net and throwing themselves at every available opportunity, and the desperation shows. It can feel like a waste of time if the applicant doesn’t act like he or she cares about the particular position or company. On the other hand, some candidates are clearly interested in a short list of companies. They have done their homework and are well-prepared, and it shows.

5. Ask meaningful questions

Your time with the recruiter is short, so you have to pack a lot of meaningful content into those few minutes. It is good to talk about your experiences and how they relate to a position at the company, but it’s also beneficial to ask some well-thought-out questions of your own. I don’t recommend asking generic, uneducated questions such as “So what does this company do?” or “Do you hire engineers?” A better alternative might be something like, “I have a strong interest in renewable energy, and I’ve read that this company has made some significant investments in that field. Are there currently opportunities available for someone like me?”

Also, feel free to ask the recruiter about his or her job. He or she may be from human resources (in which case, they probably know a lot about various openings across the entire company), or he or she may be an engineer, an associate, etc. and can provide some good insight about what it’s like to work for the company. Again, this shows some interest on your part, rather than just handing out your resume to anyone and everyone. 

Putting it all together

The next time you attend a job fair, take the time to do some homework ahead of time. Find out which companies will be attending and do some research about your favorites. Make a short list of booths that you’ll want to target.

On the big day, select a professional outfit and make sure you are put together neatly. Print several copies of your resume on crisp, bright paper and put them in a nice folder to keep them from getting folded or creased.

PortfolioCredit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/haydnseek/94842590/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Review your resume and think of a few good work-related stories that you can highlight from your experiences. Brainstorm some intelligent questions that you might want to ask the recruiters.

Finally, take a deep breath and relax. Smile. Be yourself. This could be the day that new doors open and new opportunities present themselves to you, so be ready to take advantage of them by making a great first impression.

Great resources for a job fair or interview

Job Interviews For Dummies
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