Students Get The Job Search Wrong

I attended a college career fair recently and was somewhat shocked at the conversations that occurred with me as well as a few I overheard. Granted, this was the first college career fair that I have attended in easily 10 years, which hopefully means I came into this experience with an unbiased opinion as to what would transpire.

The students who attended had one common theme: what can the company do for them. As a recruiter, this is not a question I ever want to be asked. An employer doesn’t have to do anything for a job seeker. PERIOD. End of sentence. Move along please.

What I learned is that colleges, universities, career services, and the specific “colleges” (i.e. – College of Business, College of Science, College of Education, etc.) need to drill into minds is that it isn’t about the student. The students need to focus on 6 key areas before, during and after a career fair.

Dress For Success

Yes, often overstated but seldom adhered to. Recruiters have their own preferences in this area but I am a believer in the conservative suit for men and women. What if your company is business casual or strictly casual? Come in a suit. Why? Because at a career fair you will interact with a wide variety of organizations and it is better to stay on the side of being conservative over what you wore to that 9 AM philosophy class.

Elevator Pitch

Please, please, please do not hand me your resume and try to talk with me. Put together your pitch that you will repeat 50 times in a 2 hour window to highlight your experience and sell yourself as someone a company would be missing not to have. I don’t want to hear about what classes you’ve taken either. I want to hear what you’ve done and how it will help any company.

It’s About Who?

Don’t walk up to a recruiter and say something that resembles the following: “Hi, I’m John and I’m looking for a position in Marketing. What can you do for me?” Actually, I can do nothing for you so move on. A career fair is about the company and how the student/job seeker can help the organization. Job seekers shouldn’t be confused in this aspect.

Being Prepared

This is the killer. If you show up to talk with me and say “um, I don’t know what you do but I’m looking for a career in sales.” Really? You just sold your way out of being considered for any positions I have available. The best way to get around the companies you are unfamiliar with is to…

Use Your Cell Phone

First off, turn your ringer off whenever you are in an interviewing setting. Now, if you haven’t gotten a company attendee list in the days leading up to the career fair from any of the 100 locations around campus advertising the fair, don’t worry. Have your phone at the ready and review the company’s you are unfamiliar with as you walk around. Do a walk through first to see the companies and see those you know and those you wish to learn about. Take your time and build your plan to maximize each stop.

Thank You

Identify the 3, 4 or 5 companies that you felt were of interest for you to start a career with and make sure you follow up with the recruiter. Keep it brief but show your interest and restate how you can help the company.

The entry-level job market is certainly a competitive space and students need to take every advantage of this impression. Trust me, recruiters take note of those that separate themselves from everyone else.



Photo Credit to Riverview Gardens School District and Video Credit to WorldTalkLIVE.


About kufarms
10 years in HR and recruiting both in the corporate and agency worlds. Corporate Recruiter and Socail Media Strategist. Looking to share and discuss topics as well as hopefully provide some thought. Dad of 2 with a loving wife.

9 Responses to Students Get The Job Search Wrong

  1. With an attitude like that, you’re missing out on a fantastic opportunity to build a strong employer brand.

    Don’t get me wrong: “What can you do for me?” is a wack thing for anyone to say to a recruiter. But I’ve always believed that career fairs are as much about letting students know who you are and why they should give a shit about you as they are about finding top talent.

    If you only focus on the latter, you’re doing your organization a huge disservice.

  2. kufarms says:

    Chris – you are extremely correct in your assessment. There are many things companies need to do to enhance their brand… it is a two way street. I was pointing out one side of the discussion, something for candidates to consider. I honestly did not think about discussing the employer perspective but you have given me something to consider.

    I appreciate your comment and solid discussion points!

  3. Such an interesting perspective. Couldn’t these seemingly-selfish questions actually signify a deep interest in your organization? Perhaps for the long haul?

    Job seekers are always trying to “sell” themselves to an employer, to get recruiters to realize that they can do a lot for the company. But that doesn’t mean that they’ll stay. This doesn’t mean that they want to grow with you.

    Gen-y is known to be flighty, and if a college senior asked what potential there was for their own personal career growth at my company, it would knock my socks off! That shows foresight that many 22 year olds don’t have.

  4. kufarms says:

    Lauren, great points.

    Yes, those questions may easily be taken either way, positive or negative. I think what my thought was (and maybe poorly written) was how students don’t communicate this well in person. It is the tone and direction they ask the question. If the body language and tone was positive, I would have a much different perspective.

    There were those students who were truly interested and you could understand their wanting to know a “career” opportunity. The majority of others were definitely in a WIFM mentality.

    Love your feedback and input on this discussion… awesome!

  5. Keith, to your original point, most schools really do a terrible job of preparing students for the job search process.

  6. Steve says:

    All valid points. I could not agree with you more. As we have spoken many times about this, it is just a different time from when you and I were that age. These students are a product of the system. When you have things handed to you your entire life, would you expect anything different from an employer? The “system” has to change before the “what can you do for me” mentality will change. Why Americans are getting beat around the world in many subjects? The simple answer is because they have the “desire” to succeed; they have a desire to be better than Americans. We were once that way as a country and that has seemed to change. How to change this culture is a mystery to me but it has to start at the grass roots. Great post!

  7. I second what Chris said– colleges do not do a good job educating their students about career options.

    I graduated in 2007 from a liberal arts college that did not offer any professional degrees (no business, marketing, etc.). I wandered into my career services office and was told I should work in book publishing because I was an English major. There are so many other options!

    I think the biggest misconception students have about the job search is that they think they have to find a job doing exactly what they want (thus the entitled tone I think you hear at career fairs).

    But there’s room to grow on the job and develop into your dream career. I don’t think they realize this!

  8. Gina Burzynski says:

    I really enjoyed your article and completely agree! This new wave of job seekers definitely possesses an “entitled” attitude.

  9. This new wave of job seekers definitely possesses an “entitled” attitude.

    It’s amazing how the same stereotypes about “Gen-Y” seem to come up over and over again. Are some job seekers unaware of how to handle themselves at a job fair? Sure.

    Don’t label an entire generation because of the actions of a few.

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