Job Advice for New College Grads

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Additional Career Resources

Posted by James M on December 5, 2008

In case you can’t find what you are looking for on my blog, I’ve put together a list of terrific resources:

Career Point – 5 Tips for College Student Resumes offers 5 simple tips on how to improve your resume.

Lindsey Pollak has a wonderful blog with a great format that many new college grads would find very useful.

Collegegrad.com has a terrific set of resources including a job search database as well as interview and resume tips.

About.com has one of the most comprehensive set of resources for job seekers available anywhere.

Enjoy Your Job’s compact set of 7 great tips for your resume.

Geek Hunter’s 10 simple, but amazingly powerful advice about how to be competitive in your job search.

Posted in Career Fairs, Cover Letters, and More | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Should I list a low GPA on my Resume?

Posted by James M on December 4, 2008

I’ve gotten a few e-mails lately regarding putting a low GPA on your resume as well as a ton of referrals from Google searches on the topic so I thought a post addressing it was in order.  Ok, let’s not waste any time!

Table of Contents:

  • What will happen if I don’t put my GPA on my resume
  • What about just putting my major GPA on my resume
  • Arguments for listing your GPA
  • Arguments for NOT listing your GPA

Additional Blog Posts to help with a low GPA:

What will happen if I don’t put my GPA on my resume?

In most cases the recruiter will probably assume you have a low GPA.  Think about it, if you had a 4.0 is there any doubt you would slap that achievement front and center under your Education section?

How low will they assume your GPA is?  Well obviously that depends on the recruiter, but I think typically they will assume your GPA is somewhere between a 2.5 and 2.9 which is where, in my experience, most GPAs lie on the spectrum when they are not listed.

Rest assured all recruiters have seen many resumes without a GPA and have had to ask follow-up questions to obtain this information.  Therefore each recruiter will bring their own bias about what an unlisted GPA implies for a particular candidate.

What about just putting my major GPA on my resume?

The question of whether you can exclude your cumulative GPA in favor of your major GPA on your resume is a tricky one.  It is true that most employers put a premium on your major GPA over your cumulative GPA, however many may still require that you provide your cumulative.

In addition, major GPAs are more relevant for graduating students than those seeking an internship.  With graduating seniors a major GPA represents two years of continued in-depth work with increasing focus and difficulty as one moves from 300-level classes to 400-level classes (from Junior-level to Senior-level).  A major GPA for a college junior is usually made up of just a handful of classes which makes it much less relevant.

By listing a major GPA you may entice a recruiter to have follow-up communications to determine your overall GPA at which time you can begin an engagement about why your other relative merits should outweigh your GPA.  On the other hand there is the chance they will need your cumulative GPA to process your application and won’t have time to contact you to obtain that information.  More on that in a bit.

Of course this is all under the assumption that your career of choice is in the field you majored in.  Simply listing a major GPA if you are a career changer won’t do much for you—who cares about your Forest Management GPA if you are trying to go in to Construction Management?

Many of the arguments I provide in this article regarding the discussion of a no GPA vs. a cumulative GPA strategy also apply to a cumulative GPA vs. major GPA placement.  I’ll let you decide for yourself whether you want to solely put your major GPA on your resume, however I strongly recommend a dual strategy of placing both GPAs on your resume as in:

* Communication Major GPA: 3.41, Cumulative GPA 2.94

That way you highlight your major GPA while at the same time playing it safe if a recruiter wants to see both.  Let’s discuss some more argument for listing your GPA and then follow it up with some counter arguments about why it might be better not to list your GPA.

Arguments for listing your GPA

I think the arguments for listing your GPA differ depending on whether you are applying in person or online.  First, I’ll talk about in person applications and then online submittals.

In Person Applications

If you are applying in person there are really two strategies representing two different schools of thought of career consultants.  The school of thought I subscribe to is that you should list your GPA, and there are five main reasons I believe in it:

1.  Recruiter Assumptions – By using a resume with an unlisted GPA, the recruiter will almost always assume you have “low” grades, defined, as we talked about above, by their experience working with students who don’t list their GPA.  So the recruiter may assume you have a higher or lower GPA than is actually the case.  Either way this is bad for you—if they assume your grades are higher than they are it will be a let down when they find out your actual GPA; if they assume your grades are lower, you are going through the application process with an unnecessary handicap.

2.  Peace of Mind – Since no company is likely to hire you without finding out your cumulative GPA first, why not reveal it up front.  If you don’t, you’ll always have the fear in the back of your mind that when the recruiter does find out your GPA, they’ll kick you out the door.  I would rather go through the process knowing the recruiter is at least open to the idea that I am more than my grades.

3.  Minimize Recruiter Effort – I am a fan of making a recruiter’s job as easy as possible—I want my resume to be completely self-contained with all information easy to access.  Making the recruiter inquire about your GPA is one more thing they have to do.  This may not be a big deal if they are looking at one resume, but after looking at 100 in a matter of a few hours, it starts to get annoying.  You don’t want to be the brunt of a recruiter’s bad day.

4.  Recruiter Error – In addition, let’s imagine the recruiter forgets to inquire about your GPA or doesn’t notice it in the initial contact session with you.  Now imagine the recruiter has whittled the 100 resumes they spent two hours looking at down to 6 finalists.  But here’s the catch—they only have 5 interview spots open.  Given two candidates with similar experience do you think the chances are better that they will take the time to e-mail you and wait for your response, or simply choose to interview the candidate that has included all relevant information on their resume?

5.  Mitigation Techniques – There are a variety of resume techniques you can use to mitigate a low GPA on your resume.  See the links at the top of this article for more information on the technique specifics.

Online Applications

Submitting a resume that includes a GPA is even more critical when using an online application process.  Let’s talk about why.

1.  Difficult Engagement – During a career fair, company information session, or interview it takes a matter of seconds for a recruiter to inquire about your GPA and solicit a response.  When submitting online, the employer no longer has that luxury.  At a minimum, they have to take time away from what they are doing and give you a call or send you an e-mail.

In the best case situation you pick up their phone call or see their e-mail right away, but what if you don’t?  You could easily find yourself playing a game of phone tag and at worst the recruiter might get frustrated and give up.  And what about your e-mail, what if you are out of town or simply don’t check your e-mail for a few days?  This back-and-forth communication is all a waste of time at the expense of not only you, but also the recruiter.

2.  Busy, busy, busy – During a career fair, company information session, or job interview, the recruiter is able to carve out some one-on-one time and really spend a few minutes addressing your candidacy for the position.  In an online review process, that same recruiter may be sifting through hundreds of resumes trying to find an ideal applicant.  The only way to stand out in this case is on paper, and that means having a complete and well-flowing resume that doesn’t require the recruiter to do anything but read.

3.  Online Applications – Many online applications contain text boxes or drop down menus where you are required to list your GPA.  In this case not listing your GPA becomes moot point.

Arguments for NOT listing your GPA

Although I do not subscribe to this school of thought, there are some valid arguments which I’ll try to represent fairly.

In-Person Applications

1.  Recruiter Prejudice – Listing a low GPA subjects you to the subconscious prejudice of recruiters who won’t be able to separate you from your low GPA.  Although most recruiters are good natured and are there to help, it is true that all people carry biases regardless of how hard they try not to.

2.  Recruiter Engagement – Not listing your GPA allows you to engage the recruiter when the subject does come up.  Once the recruiter asks you about your GPA, you’ll be able to instantly address the shortfall and provide a verbal mitigation describing how your other qualities outweigh your low GPA.  However, I feel that this same strategy can be used when listing your GPA.  There is nothing stopping you from obtaining all the benefits of listing your GPA on your resume and at the same time engage the recruiter during first contact.

3.  Alternative GPA – As I discussed towards the beginning of this blog post, sometimes simply listing your major GPA is enough to satisfy the curiosity of employers regarding your academic aptitude.   This is because most employers put a premium on your major GPA over your cumulative one.

4.  Much Ado About Nothing – Maybe all this emphasis I am putting on GPAs is just overblown.  Personally, I think your GPA is one of the biggest contributing factors to your hire with a particular firm, but I am just one guy writing a career blog.  It is completely reasonable and possible that you’ll get a recruiter that just doesn’t care about GPA.  Maybe they can identify with low GPAs and so they don’t ask, maybe they judge you by their rapport with you first and grades second, maybe they think previous work, internship, or volunteer experience speaks volumes more than your grades.  Whatever the reason, all recruiters are unique so the importance they place on your GPA is all relative.

Online Applications

Choosing a strategy of an unlisted GPA on an online resume is extremely risky.  Since you won’t be able to use the engagement strategy for unlisted GPAs I described above during the submittable process (as you can during a career fair or other recruitment event), you’ll have to hope you make it to the interview rounds where you can begin this discussion.  In addition, as I stated above, many online applications have a separate text box or drop down menu for you to list your GPA, so not listing it on your resume becomes moot in that case.

Well that’s it for today, I hope you found this post useful.  As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Resume Formating Template

Posted by James M on December 2, 2008

Welcome to the first in a series of resume template blogs I’ll be writing.  Each one of these templates will be tailored toward a specific type of candidate—worried about a low GPA, nervous about your lack of work experience, concerned that a previous job was more relevant than your current one—I’ll be providing resume structures and tips to cover all of these issues.

Who is this format good for?

This resume format is ideal for the candidate who is not concerned with their GPA and who’s background is biased towards work and/or internship experience (as oppose to volunteer experience or strong classroom involvement such as class projects or undergraduate research).

Resume Format

This resume uses the format:

  • Objective
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Computer Skills / Additional Activities / Community Involvement / Etc.

Example Resume

Objective: Position with the Microsoft Technical Leadership Program utilizing my real-time software internship experience and leadership skills gained through extensive student government work

Education:
Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Expected Graduation Date: Jun 2009
Grade Point Average: 3.54

Work Experience:
Intel Simulations Division
Phoenix, AZ                                                Jun. 2008 – Sep. 2008
Real-Time Software Engineer

  • Created software simulations that administered CPU performance tests on a GE X45 processor hardware test bed
  • Used efficient coding techniques to create simulations that saved 20 minutes over the previous testing run time
  • Created and maintained ISO-9450 compliant user documentation on 5 major simulation branches

Associated Students of the University of Washington
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Jan. 2008-Jun. 2008
Elections Committee Chair

  • Coordinated the successful completion of the 2008 student body elections while managing a committee of 4 people and a budget of $8,000
  • Increased the number of candidates by over 40% and voter turnout by 4.3% (1615 total votes) over the 2007 totals

UW Leaders Program
University of Washington, Seattle, WA            Aug. 2007-Jun. 2008
Co-Director

  • Administered a program containing 15 mentors and 25 undergraduate participants
  • Oversaw weekly organization of leadership curriculum and guest speakers
  • Raised $800 and organized a weekend retreat
  • Increased program applicants by 100% and yearly funding from $500 to $2000


Computer Skills and Languages:

C++, Java, Python, FORTRAN, CORBA Interface Patterns, GE X45 Simulation Test Bed, Microsoft Access, Linux

5 Format tips

1. Font Type and Size – I suggest using a simple font type like Arial or Times New Roman in a type face of 11 or 12 points.  Try to avoiding using multiple types of fonts even for your name or address.  Multiple font types are often over utilized by students at the expense of readability and professional appearance.

2. Using Caps – Avoid using all cap headings.  Studies show that caps decrease readability.  Try reading an entire paragraph in all caps and you’ll quickly see this is true.  The exception is online application that offer a plain text box entry system for your resume.  Since these don’t allow font modifications such as bolding, all caps services as an acceptable alternative for your headings.

3. Bold, Italicized, Underlined – You can create a completely readable and clear resume using only bolded headings without other text effects.  Like font type, font effects are used far to often, almost always at the expense of clarity and flow.

4. Consistency – Check, double check, and triple check that your resume is consistent.  This means that all font is the same size, all spacing is the same, and dates, company names, and job positions appear in the same place in the same format throughout your resume.

5. Text Position – I think the text format that provides the easiest flow, and gives you the most bang for your buck in terms of available space on your resume, is left aligned headings with text appearing underneath (not to the right) of the heading.

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Welcome to Job Advice for New College Grads!

Posted by James M on November 28, 2008

This blog is dedicated to students who are about to graduate from college or are seeking an internship, and recent alumni who are still in the process of seeking employment.  Although those applying to graduate school and those further along in their career may find this blog useful, it is primarily designed for college job seekers.

I write this blog because of a strong passion for helping college students based on my own experience when searching for a job.  I have over three years of experience working with college students and have spoken on numerous career panels and at career related events, and have assisted hundreds of students with resume consulting.  In addition, I have been a company representative at career fairs and spoken at corporate information sessions with The Boeing Company where I started my career.

I hope you find these posts useful.  They represent a collection of practical information I have shared with students over the past several years.  Most students find the information extremely valuable and useful during their career search.  If you have any requests for posts, questions, or comments please let me know.

In addition, I would love to give you tailored advice regarding your resume or any other aspect of your career search.  Please feel free to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

Posted in Career Fairs, Cover Letters, and More | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Interview Questions – What is your biggest weakness?

Posted by James M on November 28, 2008

This is one of the most difficult questions for entry-level job candidates during the interview.  There are some helpful tips about what makes a “good weakness” and an important structural framework that will help you ace this question on the interview.

We’ll work our way backwards on this one.  First, I’ll give an example and analysis of how to answer this question correctly, then I’ll delve more into what a bad answer looks like  and how to get yourself to a place where you can respond to this question in a way that will impress the recruiter.

Example Response
So let’s talk about an actual response to this question and what it might look like.  Let’s imagine that my lack of leadership skills is my weakness of choice and I read a leadership book and did some basic volunteer work to help shore up my weakness.

“What is your biggest weakness?”

“Well, after being assigned a group project in a film production and editing class, I was tasked with leading our group of 5 students to make a short 45-second commercial.  Although we completed the assignment on time, I noticed my leadership skills were lacking.  The group continually looked to me to lead them and I had trouble striking a balance between delegating the work evenly and wanting to do it all myself.  Some sections of the project I spent 12 hours a day doing while other times I delegated so much work I had nothing to do.  In addition, when disputes arose between team members about the direction of the film or a particular type of editing style, I didn’t know how to handle the disagreements and because of the constant fights one person dropped out of our group.

I knew if I wanted to be a successful television editor, a job that involves delegating a lot of tasks, I would need to learn how to lead a team more effectively.  I remembered hearing about a book called The One Minute Manager on a business talk show I was watching a while back so purchased that book and was able to read it in about two weeks.  It gave a lot of great advice, particularly about delegation and giving constructive criticism.

In addition, last month I sought out an opportunity to lead a group of 25 volunteers during a day long park clean up project.  I inspected the park before the event to see what areas might need the most cleanup and talked to the local chapter of the parent organization about useful tips based on past clean up projects.  This helped me get a good sense of the delegation needed before the event even started.  This was an item the book recommended—having a plan for the distribution of work before it comes time to actually parse the project into small tasks.

The day of the event several volunteers didn’t show up so I had to re-delegate a few tasks.  I used the strategies I read about in the book to help motivate the team as well as worked very hard myself to show the team I was committed.  When there were disputes about who wanted to do what job I was able to talk to several volunteers to find a balance of work.  In particular no one wanted to do the “boring job” of pulling weeds so I decided to assign every volunteer a few minutes doing it.  Because the volunteers spent most of the time doing other tasks that they had chosen and each volunteer felt the system was fair, they didn’t mind pulling weeds for a short time.

I have already started reading another book entitled Leadership 101 to continue to learn about the art and science of leadership.  In addition, I signed up to lead another park rejuvenation project early next month.  This project involves 40 people and I’m excited to challenge myself and continue to improve my leadership skills.”

Example Response Analysis
Notice that this answer uses a modified form of the STAR framework I talked about in my Behavioral Interview Questions post.

  • First, I talked about the initial situation that led me to realize that leadership, the weakness I choose for my response, was a problem.  I mentioned the task or project I was assigned and what went wrong.  Notice that I was very specific about the particular elements of leadership I was weak on—delegation and resolving disputes.  The more specifically you answer this part of the question the easier the entire question will be to answer.  For example, depending on who you talk to, leadership might involve dozens of different components. Improving one or two elements of my leadership skills at a time is much easier than improving every the entire continuum of leadership itself.
  • Second, I formulated a realization of career success that involved improving upon the weakness.  Using one of my long term goals of being successful in the film industry I framed an “improvement space” that existed to achieve that success.  It is good to have some motivation for the improvement you have chosen.  There are hundreds of different attributes in a professional career and no one person is strong at all of them.  You should pick and choose the attributes you want to be strong at based on your career goals and interpersonal strengths.
  • Third, I talked about my plan—how was I going to improve on this weakness?  In my case I read a leadership book and then decided to sign up for short leadership position with a local non-profit organization.   Actually doing something about my weakness shows tremendous initiative and gets past the “fluff” that the typical candidate uses in their response.
  • Forth, I talked about the situation where I led more successfully.  What happened this time when those same issues of delegation and resolving disputes came up?  How did I handle them differently and achieve success this time around?  In particular I cited a strategy shift that was informed largely by the information I acquired in the leadership book I referenced earlier.
  • Fifth, I talked about future plans for improvement.  This is really a great way to wrap up the question.  Show the interviewer that although you’ve made some improvements to date, you are taking the initiative to get to a state of excellence with regard to your current weakness.  It also shows a very positive attitude.  Showing a track record of initiative and a positive attitude will get you much further than you can imagine in an interview.

A poor response to this question
Now let’s look at a response to this question from a slightly humors angle.

“What would you say is your biggest weakness?”

“My biggest weakness is that sometimes girls are jealous of me because I’m just too pretty.”

Yes, that is a bad answer, but maybe not for the reasons you think.  Yes, it is bad because it is conceded and uninspiring (albeit a joke in this context), but, even worse, being exceptionally pretty is not a weakness.  Neither is being a perfectionist.  Let me repeat that.  Being a perfectionist is NOT a weakness.  If the average HR representative had a dollar for every time someone said their biggest weakness was being a perfectionist or their biggest strength is working with people, they’d have enough money to retire and take up sailing.

Answering “weakness” questions this way is insulting—to yourself.  It shows that you have very little, if any, self-awareness.  That’s right I said it!  We all have enough actual weaknesses without needing to take a positive characteristic and put a negative spin on it.  Moreover, these answers are cliche, overused, and boring.


What makes a “good weakness”?

Ok, so now let’s look at the constituents that make up what you might call a “good weakness”.  In other words a weakness that actually challenges you in your life and passes muster with a recruiter during an interview.

  • First, it should be a weakness that has actually given you problems in the past.  You need to be able to tell a story (as we saw in our example response) about how this weakness has inhibited you, so having a vague sense about what you would like to improve isn’t enough.  You need concrete examples, so spend some time thinking about group projects, internships, volunteer experience, etc. and try to think of some situations where you didn’t perform up to par and what characteristics of yourself contributed to that.
  • Second, it should be a weakness that you have actively worked to improve.  This is really the key part of your response.  If you can really delve into this “improvement space” if you will, you’ll hit the ball out of the park on this question and leave a fantastic impression with the recruiter.
  • Third, you’ll need an example of how things worked the next time you were put in the same situation. There is sort of a before-and-after type dichotomy at play here.
  • Lastly, if you are a non-traditional applicant to a position you may want to consider mentioning your lack of experience in a particular area as your weakness and describe how you’ve mitigated that gap.  For example, say you are an art major applying for an investment banking job.  The obvious weakness would be your lack of a rigorous financial background.  So you can talk about how you took some finance and accounting classes, how you joined the finance club, how you read the Wall Street Journal regularly, etc.  Doing so will help to kill the “elephant in the room”, namely why in the world an art major is cut out for investment banking.  It is better to tackle these non-traditional applicant situations head on rather than assuming you are on equal footing as more traditional candidates.

How to mitigate and improve a weakness
To really set your response apart, you’ll need to show that you’ve actively tried to mitigate the weakness you described.  First, you should think hard about the conscious and subconscious steps you’ve already taken in the mitigation process.  Perhaps you did some soul searching and concentrated extra hard on a particular characteristic the next time you did a group project or sought a different position with your volunteer club to help fill a knowledge gap.

If you haven’t begun to work on your weakness yet, no need to worry.  It is never too late to start working on self-discovery and self-improvement.  After spending some time thinking hard about what some of your key weaknesses may be it is time to start improving upon them.  Depending on how much time before your job search commences you may be able to do any one of the following:

  • Take additional university classes to cover any knowledge gaps you may have.
  • Join a club at school or in the community that focuses on a particular area of study or soft skill.
  • Consider volunteer opportunities.  They are likely the fastest and most efficient ways to shore up key weaknesses such as leadership and teamwork.
  • Do some independent research.  Depending on your school, major, and available professors, undergraduate research can often be set up on short notice and tailored to cover specific gaps in your knowledge or skill sets.
  • Consider simple things such as subscribing to publications, newspapers, reading online journals etc.  Sometimes it is the simple initiatives we take that set us apart.
  • Take community classes.  Public speaking, organization, leadership and many other courses are often available at community colleges in the evening or from various community organizations.
  • Consider student government.  Many school’s student government and other school sponsored organizations offer really great chances to quickly gain valuable soft skill experience.

Note that you don’t need to be 100% complete with this process by the time of your interview.  If your weakness is public speaking a simple story about how you have enrolled in a public speaking class offered by Toast Masters, given your first intermediate length speech and received positive reviews will do wonders.  Because we are allowed to be somewhere in the process of improvement, I wouldn’t worry too much about having a short time line.  All you need is to show the initiative to improve yourself and one simple example of your improvement thus far and you have competed the ingredients needed to do fantastically well in your response.

Also note that you need to walk a thin line—after a certain amount of improvement a weakness ceases to be considered such and can actually be thought of as a strength.  That is not the type of situation we are looking for here.  We are looking for you to be somewhere in the process of shoring up the weakness.

Wrap-up
Well there you have it, everything you need to do to hit the ball out of the park on this question in the interview.  You really only need a couple of weeks to get from square one to a completed series of story points for this question.  Just spend a little bit of time thinking about your weaknesses and take a few steps to mitigate it either on your own, by getting involved with your university, or seeking out a community organization.  Along the way you’ll gain a lot of insight and experience that you can use elsewhere in your interview.

If you have any questions about any aspect of your job hunt or would like a free in-depth resume consultation, I invite you to e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com.

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Resume Tips – How to write an effective Objective statement

Posted by James M on November 7, 2008

Writing an effective Objective certainly isn’t rocket science, but there is an art to writing one.  Traditionally, the Objective has been an area included on the resume for logistical purposes.  That is, it doesn’t advance your candidacy for the position as much as it serves as an informational indicator to the company about what position you are applying for.  However, in recent years there has been a movement among career consultants pushing the idea of using the Objective as yet another way of marketing yourself.  In today’s article I’ll give you three very practical tips about how to make your Objective “pop” as well as several examples using these techniques.

First, I’ll give a few examples of effective Objective statements and then I’ll go into the reasoning behind their structure.

Objective Examples
Here are a four example Objectives using the set of tools we will learn below.

Specific position statement, generic company statement, specific skill statement:

I am seeking a position as a market researcher in a growing, environmentally conscious company that will utilize my knowledge of quantitative methods and analysis.

Specific position statement including job number, specific company statement, specific skill statement:
A position as a Level 1 Software Engineer (Req. #234SE1) in the BCA division of Boeing that utilizes my programing internship experience and strong C++ background.

Generic position statement, specific company statement, specific experience statement:

An entry-level position with the National Wildlife Reserve that utilizes my passion for wildlife and my deep breadth of forest exploration gained during 6-months of South American travel.

Specific position statement, specific company statement, specific experience statement:

A position as a business analyst at Deloitte and Touche that uses my quantitative skills gained during engineering coursework as well as my real-world leadership experience acquired as a member of the University of Virginia Student Senate.

If you need even more examples of Objectives, About.com has a great career section including a whole page of example Objectives you can view here: http://jobsearch.about.com/od/sampleresumes/a/sampleobjective.htm

Ok, now let’s talk more about some general tips to help you write your Objective.

Be Specific
When you write your objective you should be as specific as you can regarding both the company you want to work for and the position you are seeking.

For example, don’t just say you want to work for “a premier social networking company”  say you want to work for Facebook.  And don’t say you are seeking an “entry-level position”, instead you would want to say you desire a “position as a business analyst.”

In the end you should have several resumes, each tailored to one of your top companies.  There are two exceptions to this specificity rule.  The first is the case where you cannot find out specific information about a company.  Perhaps you know you want to work for a local non-profit, but because it is small and newly established you find it difficult to determine what positions are available.  In that case you would write a specific statement about your target company and a general statement about your target position.  The second exception is that you should always carry several copies of your resume with specific position statements, but generic company statements to hand out during a career fair should you find an unknown company that strikes your fancy.

Add a Requisition Number
Most large and medium sized companies use what are called job numbers or requisition numbers to manage their employment pool.  If you know you are interested in a particular position and you know the job number you should also add this information in your Objective. This is especially relevant if you are applying to a position on-line.


Create a Skill Statement

A skill statement is a short sales pitch in your objective that describes a few of your skills or qualifications that apply to your target position.  If you are applying for an engineering position you might tout your quantitative skills.  If you are seeking a job in a subcontract management division you might discuss the leadership experience you gained while leading a community park rejuvenation project.

As always if you have any questions about this post or would like help writing your specific Objective statement (or need any other help with your job search such as tailored resume advice) you can e-mail me at collegegraduatejobs@gmail.com. Thanks for reading and good luck!

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How To Win Big At A Career Fair

Posted by James M on November 3, 2008

Career fairs are one of the most under utilized parts of the job hunt and one for which many soon-to-be graduating job seekers under prepare.  A typical student might stop by for an hour or so between classes, browse the vast array of company booths, and escape with a plastic bag full of free stuff.  If they are industrious they may stop by a booth or two and drop off a resume.  Career fairs, however, are a great opportunity and one that you should put time and effort into.

If you have never been to a career fair, rest assured it is pretty straight forward.  There are booths staffed by representatives from various companies.  Sometimes they are from the college recruiting division, but they may be volunteer employees from some other division or in some cases the hiring managers themselves.  The number of employers varies between career fairs.  Some are more specialized such as Management Consulting or Forest Resources fairs that may only have 10 companies, while others are larger, more general fairs that could have 50-100 companies.

Career fairs are often under emphasized by students, however this is a mistake.  Career fairs represent your first face-to-face interaction with a company, often times by a representative who will be interviewing you or making a hiring decision.  In addition, these fairs offer a terrific opportunity to gain insight into aspects of a company that are impossible to find online.

Today, I’d like to talk about some of the tricks of the trade and give you some practical tips to help survive a career fair:

Make a good first impression
Treat a career fair the same way you would treat an interview–dress the part, research the company, sell yourself.  Because the atmosphere may seem more laid back don’t forget you are interacting with company representatives, many of whom are in the Recruiting or HR departments and are often the same people who do on- (and off-) campus interviews with new college hires.  It is not unheard of for a company to conduct interviews at a career fair if they spot top talent.  I have even heard of a couple of cases of companies making offers at a career fair.  You heard right.  So be on your best behavior and don’t fall into the trap of treating a career fair as a casual affair.

Dress the part
When finding a job, “dress the part” usually means you should wear a suit (for men) or pant suit or similar attire (for women).  This is not always the case if you know the dress code of a particular company is less formal, but since at a career fair you will be interacting with a wide variety of companies you need to dress to the highest common denominator.  Trust me, it makes a really bad first impression if you stroll in with jeans and sandals on, so do yourself a favor and change out of your casual school wear before hitting up the fair.

Ditch the bag
To me nothing looks tackier than a man wearing a suit who has on a backpack.  The same goes for a women in a pant suit or wearing a skirt.  Here you are in a nice, clean, pressed, professional outfit and you are hauling around a dirty, heavy symbol of the fact that you are still not part of the working world.  Do everyone a favor and ditch your bag.  You’ll look infinitely more professional and, once you liberate yourself from your bag, will feel much more free and confident.  And as a practical matter, hanging on to a 20 lb backpack for 3 hours while you’re walking around nervous as hell about getting a job isn’t my idea of fun.  So what should you do with your bag?  This easiest and most obvious choice is to swing by your house and drop it off.  If you feel you don’t have time (maybe you have an evening class after the career fair or are worried about traffic), think of other creative solutions–ask a friend to hold on to it, leave it in a classroom or lab that you know will be occupied by trusted colleagues, or see if your school’s career center will hang on to it for a few hours.  Whatever you do, leave the bag behind, you wouldn’t bring it to an interview, you wouldn’t bring it to work, so don’t bring it to a career fair.

Research the company
Do your research about a company before you go to the career fair.  If you ask simple questions a career fair, the kind that anyone can find an answer to on a company website, you are really wasting your time (and not helping your chances of impressing the recruiter).  Go above and beyond, ask questions that probe details about a company that you won’t be able to find on the internet.  It is quite impressive to college recruiters when you show your knowledge about a company early on in the job search process.

After you do your research, I would make a sheet of notes for the top 5 or so companies you are interested in, take these note sheets to the fair, and review each one just before talking to the respective employer.  Facts you might write down are key attributes the company is looking for in an employee, any specific job openings you might have seen on the company’s website, perhaps a (very) brief history of the company, the company’s CEO, recent sales, reminders of any important news stories. This information will help guide your discussion and really impress the representative if they happen to ask “Are you familiar with our company and products”, which is a very common question.

Customize your resume
This is really a nice touch.  At the very least you should update your resume’s objective by mentioning the company by name.  If you already know the position you are applying to make sure that you mention that as well.  But most importantly, instead of using a generic resume, make sure it matches the company’s values and desired skill set of the position you are applying for.  We’ll have a very large and in-depth discussion on resumes later.

Have a spiel

Have a 20 second introduction about yourself.  What you are majoring in, what interests you about the company, how your skills match the position.  When you go up to a booth at a career fair, shake the employer’s hand and give your spiel.  Because you will inevitably memorize your spiel, you’ll really need to watch yourself so it doesn’t sound robotic.  I’ve heard many a perspective employee come by and sound like Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (I just realized I am dating myself with that movie example, but it’s a classic you should pic up and watch anyway).  Try with all your might to make your spiel sound organic like you just came up with it on the spot.  You should even practice this in front of a mirror.  Be ready to abandon your spiel at the drop of a hat, it is there to get things moving. Sometimes a perspective employer may ask you a question–“Hey how’s it going, have you had a chance to check out this cool new product we brought with us as a demonstration?”  If the initial conversation gets going without you using your spiel then great!!  As you go about your discussion it is still key that you work in important pieces of information such as your knowledge about the company, why you want to work for them, and what skills you bring.

Also, note that it is best, like all your interaction with a particular company, to tailor your dialogue to the specific employer of interest. Here’s an example of what you might say:

“Hi my name is Lisa, I’m a Communications major graduating in June.  I had an internship last summer with Northwest Broadcasting Incorporated and I really enjoyed working in the video editing department the most.  While looking on your website I saw you have openings for Editing Assistances and I really think my experience at NBI as well as my strong academic background would make me an ideal candidate.  I was wondering if you could tell me more about the Editing Assistant career path.”

Yes, I know people don’t actually talk like that in real life, but I think you get the point.  You have to find the words, tone, and pacing that are natrual for you.  But remember, show your passion, show your knowledge, and sell yourself.

Be engaging
It is really anticlimactic when a student walks up only to mumble with their eyes staring at the resume in their hands.  Be confident!  Be interested!  Ask questions!  Far too many students speak in monotone voices and seem only casually intersted in what company representatives are telling them.  Yes you are nervous, but let your passion for the company and your excitment to find a job show.

What if I don’t know about a particular company?
If you are caught off guard and don’t know about a company you happen to see that looks interesting, don’t waltz up lazy and uninterested.  Trust me, this happens all the time, especially to smaller companies with less name recognition and this lacadizical attitude is really offputting.  Be bold and confident!  Tell the recuriter you were passing by, found the booth interesting and would like to know more about the company.  Work in the generic version of your speil and be yourself.

Don’t start with your top choice

This is a more subtle and often overlooked tip.  Most people who attend a career fair are eager to start talking to representatives from their short list of companies.  That eagerness in conjunction with the fact that most people are often nervous and a little awkward when first attending a career fair often spells disaster.  You want to put your first foot forward when speaking to companies at the top of your list.  So do yourself a favor and start with companies that aren’t on your list.  Work out your introduction, get a feel for the pacing of the interaction and what sorts of questions work well.  Listen to other students talk to employers and get a feel for what does and doesn’t work for them.  After you have your nerves worked out and you’ve hit your stride, then go up and talk to your top companies.

Ask Questions!

Unless your uncle works for a particular company, a career fair is probably the best place to have face-to-face interaction with a company employee.  Really take your time and leverage all of the valuable information you can get there.  Here are some questions you might ask during the career fair:

  • What do you look for in a successful candidate?
  • What are the biggest challenges to a new employee?
  • What is the structure of your interview and hiring process?
  • What is your favorite part about working at the company?
  • What was your career path with the company?
  • What is the typical career path for a [insert your position of interest]?
  • I noticed that [insert product] is launching later this year, will there be any openings to work on that project?

You can also ask follow-up questions about information you found online such as information about:

  • A particular opening you saw online.
  • An entry-level employment program such as a Rotation Program or Leadership Development Program.
  • The main location of particular work group’s offices.
  • Company diversity programs.
  • Company work-life balance.
  • Corporate citizenship practices.
  • The list goes on…

This list is by no means the final word on questions you might want to ask.  It is merely presented to give you some examples of a few good questions and to get your juices flowing.  You should prepare questions that are interesting to you and relevant to the goals of your job hunt.  Remember, you have a limited time with each employer so pick and choose a short list of your highest priority questions and ask them in order of importance to you.  If you don’t get a chance to ask all your questions you’ll have another chance during the interview process.  Also remember that many of the questions you ask will come naturally as part of your dialogue with the recruiter.

I hope that this discussion has highlighted the importance of the career fair in the job seeking process and given you the tools you’ll need to be successful.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.

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