As a Career Coach, I get numerous questions from students and alumni for advice on how to “catch” an employer’s attention at a career fair. One of the best pieces of advice I give them is to “dress the part.” This advice comes from my personal observations at various career fairs. I have deliberately set aside time at these events to observe, unobtrusively, what happens in interactions between candidates and employers.
Here’s what I observed at just one event: A recruiter was visiting with a participant who was dressed very casually (jeans and tee-shirt). When another candidate stopped by who was dressed very professionally (suit and tie), the recruiter literally stopped her conversation with the casually dressed candidate and turned to the more professionally-dressed candidate. This really surprised me at first, but when looking at the situation, it told me a lot about what employers/recruiters are seeking. They don’t want to “waste their time” talking to people who aren’t serious job seekers. That’s their “take” on someone who isn’t dressed professionally.
We all know how important first impressions are—and for busy employers/recruiters, this is critical in determining who they will pursue, whether at a career fair or at any other interactions with potential candidates. So what does this mean to you as a job seeker? YOUR APPEARANCE AND DRESS are especially important, and you should dress as if going to an interview when attending a career fair.
But students tell me, “I’m just coming out of a class and I don’t have time to go home and change.” My response—either dress for the event before class OR bring your clothes with you and change in the restroom.
IT’S THAT IMPORTANT!
I read an article on common career fair mistakes people make. I think some of the remedies are worth sharing with you since our career fair will be coming up on March 20, 2014. This will give you plenty of time to prepare.
- Have an elevator speech – You need to have an elevator speech and memorize it. You have a lot of competition at a career fair and your competition is going to be focused and prepared.
- Research the companies participating in the fair – We always publish the names of companies in advance so there is no excuse not to do some research. I recently had feedback from an organization that did some on-campus interviews and that was one of their biggest disappointments.
- Make enough copies of your resume – Make more than what you think you will need, even if you have to print them on plain white paper.
- Get a good night’s sleep – You need to have your head in the game during a career fair. Make sure you are rested and don’t show up with “sleepy face.”
If you come unprepared to a career fair, recruiters are going to think you will come unprepared to work.
One of the things my grandmother says about me is how I’ve always had a plan for my life. In fact, she’s amazed by how well my life has followed the plan. However, not everything has worked out the way I would have designed it. If I had my way, upon completing my graduate degree, I would have immediately been able to get into a career services position with a school in Nebraska. However, that is not how events unfolded.
My favorite line from the movie “The Sound of Music” helped me get through this period of uncertainty-when a door closes, a window opens. When the doors of higher education were closing in my face, I found a window in a recruiting position for a staffing agency. That window subsequently opened the door to the career I had been seeking. Looking back on it, I can say that being a recruiter has helped me become a better career coach.
Don’t lose sight of your goal when things don’t follow your plan. Just look for the window of opportunity that might be right in front of you. That window may lead you to the door you are looking for in the future.
Whether in a cover letter, your resume, or during an interview, coming across as a diamond in the sand is key to differentiating yourself among the 100’s of job seekers competing with you for open positions. There are several ways to do this; here are three which can produce important results:
1. Review a copy of your current job description. It’s important to be familiar with what your current employer views as the requirements of your present job.
2. Compare your current job description to the descriptions of the job you want. Be sure to highlight common key words and skills that are transferrable between positions.
3. Include those key areas in a cover letter, resume, and/or interview in a way that distinguishes you from anyone else currently holding the same or similar position within your current organization. In other words, identify how you have excelled in your position in ways that others haven’t. Make sure that even though the requirements of the position may be the same, the results and outcomes that you have accomplished and achieved are different and showcase how you bring value to the organization within which you are seeking employment.
Your resume must be your own—uniquely. Even if seven other individuals have an identical title, role, and responsibilities within your organization (or across organizations), focus the ways in which your contribution to the organization is one of a kind.
The story in Roar by Katy Perry is about a woman who has let her life by defined by someone else. When she realizes this, she sets out to make some changes.
Once she’s made the changes, she’s a different person. In other words, she went from zero to her own hero. However, she acknowledges that she had to earn her stripes or go through challenges to reach the end goal. The chorus of the song mentions she’s got the “eye of the tiger.”
The phrase eye of the tiger calls to mind the song Eye of the Tiger by Survivor from Rocky III. In this movie, Rocky also moves from a zero to hero in his mind. He learns that all of his title defense matches were fought against handpicked opponents. Then, his longtime trainer dies. The song plays as Rocky is returning to basics in his training. He changes himself into a completely different type of fighter by changing to a quick hitting attack. Even though Rocky had been a champion, in his own mind, he was a zero because his matches had been rigged. So, he looked inside himself and was able to change the circumstances with the help of a few friends along the way.
Sometimes, in order for our dreams to come true, we need to look inside ourselves to see what we need to change. Do you have bad habits you’d like to lose? Would you like to complete your education or earn an advanced degree? Do you want to add community or professional organizations to an already busy schedule? If so, how do you do it? How do you move yourself from being a zero to hero in your own mind? Many times, we have to view ourselves as heroes before others can.