This is a guest post from Jeff Beard, lightly edited. Enjoy.
Dear New Developer,
Preparing for a university job fair or similar recruiting event is very important if you want to make an impression that results in a phone screen.
A hiring manager and their recruiters receive an enormous number of contacts and resumes from a variety of channels so you have to be able to stand out from the crowd in a very short amount of time, often measured in seconds.
However, when you are at a recruiting event you have a unique opportunity to make an impression since you will get to talk directly to a recruiter or even a hiring manager. So you need to be fully prepared to exploit that short window of opportunity.
Here are a few important things to prepare in order to make the most of that moment:
- The Introduction
- The Conversation
A resume is something of a pitch deck that you use to get attention and tell your story. It’s also a notepad and reminder for a recruiter or hiring manager to go back to in order to find you in the huge pile of resumes they collect. Or, sadly, to figure out what goes into the recycle bin now versus later (it’s no joke: a desk covered with hundreds of resumes requires triage.)
To begin with, make sure that you have complete basic information such as address, phone, email, GPA, and graduation date (for students) at the top of your resume.
There are a few important attributes that a hiring manager is looking for and that you want to show with your resume:
Since you are early in your career you won’t have as much work experience so you should make projects the centerpiece of your resume. In fact, even later in your career, a highly informative discussion can be had around projects that reveal the attributes noted above. For any project on your resume you should be able to speak to:
- The purpose of the project
- Why it was important
- Did you work on a team
- How did the team self-organize
- How you overcame challenges
- What was the outcome
- Why you liked the project
Importantly, what a good hiring manager is looking for is intrinsic motivation. We want folks that are naturally excited about the domain they are looking to enter for their career.
So put your favorite project at the top of the list and drive the conversation to that project if you can. The person you are talking to needs to see what lights you up and there is native passion for your favorite project that you need to let shine through.The project description should be brief and to the point, with a focus on the “what”, “why”, and the outcome. A project description doesn’t need to be burdened with the tech used unless it adds to the overall narrative.
Projects don’t have to be school class projects or work experience. They can be side hustles, Open Source, personal interest, or Hackathon projects.
If you haven’t done a lot of projects, take the initiative to find a couple of projects to work on. If you are in school or in your first job and it’s not producing projects that engage you, seek them out or invent them yourself. This will be reflected in your resume and will send a signal that you are curious, passionate about the domain, and look beyond what you are doing day to day for interesting problems to solve.
One final bit of advice on resumes, is that you can have more than one resume for different audiences. For example if you are equally interested in DevOps and software development, craft two different resumes that highlight projects and work experience in each category. You can also optimize resumes for different industries to highlight aspects of your experience or interests that cast you in a good light for that market.
The introduction is a critical face to face interaction that is your opportunity to form a connection with a potential hiring manager or recruiter. There is an incredibly short window of opportunity to impress the person which means you need to say a few impactful words, delivered with confidence.
When you approach the company representative, reach out to shake hands while you say hello and start your introduction. People receive signals from a handshake so don’t go soft and don’t be aggressive. Just a firm, confident handshake will do the trick. Practice with friends.
I personally will listen for about a minute before I interrupt and direct the conversation to, say, the resume in a candidate’s hand but it’s important to have a story that is concise, to the point, and well rehearsed.
The introduction should contain your name, your college program and graduation date (if appropriate), what you are passionate about, what role you are looking for, what your interest is in the company, and why you would be successful. It’s a brief statement of intent and a value proposition signal. You should practice saying it out loud often enough that you can deliver it with a practiced confidence, energy and restrained enthusiasm while looking the person straight in the eye.
Don’t make assumptions about the person you are talking to; ask them what their role is at the company. If they are technical, this is an opportunity to signal your depth. If they are not, you can tailor the conversation accordingly.
Also don’t launch into a description of every item on your resume; exercise restraint and stay focused on a concise introduction that will lead into a conversation.
Finally, like resumes, you can have more than one introduction crafted for different audiences.
Your introduction will lead into a very short, general conversation which you also need to be prepared for. If the introduction is the hook, then this conversation is closing the deal on a phone screen. (Note you are not closing the deal on a job or an interview, that’s later. You just want a second look which is what the phone screen is.)
You get it by handing the recruiter or hiring manager your resume to scan and ask their questions. Have a ready answer for everything on your resume including any questions about whether or not things went bad on a project or an obviously short tenure at one of your jobs.
You should also seek to align your interests with what the company does which requires research.
At most career fairs there is a list of companies available ahead of time so you can research them and target the companies that do work that best aligns with your interests. If you aren’t sure about what your passions are or it’s hard to figure out what the company does, be prepared to put that out there right away. Some of the most awkward moments are when someone tries to improvise what they think my company does. Don’t improvise, do the research. It’s easy, and pays dividends.
Just identify a few things that the company does to show interest and then ask about other things the company does and what market they operate in. What’s important is that you show that you are interested and motivated enough to do the research. This also helps with the common question you may get: “why do you want to work for Willard’s Widgets?” If you’ve done the research you’ll have a good idea of whether you can honestly say that whatever they do is super interesting and you’ve love to help the company be successful.
Other questions you can ask are “what is the culture like?”, “tell me about an exciting initiative at the company”, and as you wrap up the conversation you could ask “when can I expect to hear back?”
To get extra credit educate yourself on the industry that the company operates in. If you can speak intelligently about the major trends in a market and tie it to what a company does, you are instantly distinguished from your peers. Very few early career candidates pay much attention to the business side of things but it’s important to understand the industry you work in, especially as you mature in your career.
No need to wear a suit; it’s not the norm for our industry except for executives (and even then there are a lot of hoodies and t-shirts in the wild). But don’t wear pajamas with bunny slippers either. Casual clothes that are clean and not shredded, a folder full of printed resumes, and a cell phone are what you need when you step up to the table to confidently deliver that well-practiced introduction.
If you are comfortable with it, you can add something colorful, or otherwise visibly interesting or memorable, to your outfit that makes you stand out from the blue jeans/black leggings and t-shirt crowd. Don’t be silly or obnoxious, just wear or add something visual and unique to your outfit or just make it more colorful in general. It provides something else for the hiring manager or recruiter to associate with a good conversation when they’re digging through a pile of resumes, trying to decide who to call.
Finally, job fairs can be taxing so make sure you take breaks and have access to snacks and drinks to power you through the event and keep up your energy levels.