BY JUSTIN MCCLURE
As a senior in college, I have had the pleasure of participating in many job and internship fairs. There is no sarcasm behind that, either. I have genuinely enjoyed dressing up, printing out my resumes and talking to myriad prospective employers about my schooling, job experience and everything else that would make me a great candidate for their company. In general, people enjoy talking about themselves and career fairs allow students the opportunity to talk about themselves without feeling braggadocios.
To that right, prospective employers are yearning for the opportunity to tell students why their company is the best. However, some employers do not approach you at the career fairs – they expect you to do that. Sometimes it is hard for some to initiate the conversation and when you finally muster up the courage to introduce yourself, there is an air of awkwardness that looms over the entirety of the conversation.
For those who have a hard time starting the conversation or continuing it, here a few tips you can use that I have found to be successful when talking to the employer.
Know where the company is located.
I was at a career fair last April and before I would speak to a company, I would look up where their offices were located or where they were headquartered on my phone. When you approach a company’s representative, shake their hand, mention the company name and ask something to the degree of “you’re located in (this city/town/area), correct?” Obviously, the employer will verify that you are correct in your questioning. This offers a great transition into what you know about the area. Perhaps you went to high school in that area, or you vacationed there one time or maybe you used to work around the area where the company is located. If you are not familiar with the area simply state that you would be interested in getting to know it better. This can help facilitate the conversation into internship and job opportunities at the company.
Look at a recruiter’s jewelry and accessories.
Aside from wearing the normal business professional attire, recruiters will sometimes wear jewelry, pins, rings or other accessories of things that they care about. Perhaps a recruiter is wearing a national championship ring from their collegiate sports team, maybe they are wearing a pin supporting some issue such as breast cancer or maybe you just really like their necklace or watch. Whatever it is, compliment them on it and if you can relate to it, tell them!
Students can do the same thing, as well. Personally, I like to wear a tie tack denoting my religious views. It is something that I care about and employers will see the tie tack and ask me about it, and the conversation goes from there. If you can add something to your attire that differentiates you from all the other suit jackets and dresses in the crowd, do it. You never know who may compliment you on it and how one conversation could lead to a career opportunity.
Mention how a recruiter’s company has impacted your life.
During one of the job and internship fairs that SU Career Services hosted, I spoke to an employee from Penske, the truck rental company. I was very familiar with Penske and what they do because a previous employer of mine used to rent Penske trucks all the time to transport supplies to the job site. I told the Penske recruiters about my experience with their offerings and products and that eliminated a lot of the background information they were prepared to tell me, and got us on the fast track to discussing opportunities within the company. If you can find a company that you recognize and that you have had the pleasure to do business with, whether it be working for or with them or utilizing their services in your everyday life, let them know. This shows a recruiter that you know what their company is about and can give you a leg up on the other students applying to jobs and internships. Personal knowledge of the industry is a great way to differentiate yourself and can be a deciding factor when it comes time for companies to choose which candidates they are going to offer a job to.
Be willing to ask the questions that other students might not want to.
Before I say anything, use caution with this tactic. You want to ask hard questions to prospective employers but make sure you ask questions that are not going to offend them. If you implement this high-risk approach, it can sometimes yield a high reward.
For example, at one job fair I was speaking to a member of a company called Benco Dental, a distributor of dental supplies, equipment, service and technology. They had some toothbrushes and other dental products on their table and I asked them, “How do you guys sell these toothbrushes, cotton balls, floss, etc.? I mean it’s a toothbrush, how do you differentiate yourself amongst your competition?” A question that could have offended the recruiters turned into a great conversation about the company’s niche and core competencies and really allowed me to get a more in-depth view of how the company operates. But again, you need to be discerning when using this tactic. To add to that, be ready to ask a lot of questions. Questions show employers that you are interested and an employer is likely to remember you by the more questions you ask and the longer conversations you have.