I Heart Career Fairs

Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of attending a career fair at a local university. Career fairs are something that I look forward to and one of the perks of being a recruiter. If you’ve never attended one, imagine a large room crammed with colorful booths, professional looking people scurrying around, and loads of free swag and candy.

We have a particularly impressive booth that is humongous and a gigantic pain to assemble. Every time I do it I swear it’s going to injure me. We offer chocolate candy (immense temptation right in front of my face) and sit and watch as students walk by.

It’s a lot of fun to observe people interacting at these things. There are three types of recruiters. There are the loud, aggressive, used-car-salesmen types who will collar students and browbeat them into handing over a resume and will not let anyone leave. These are the people who, as anyone walks by, will shout out “Hey! Are you looking for a job?”. Honestly, if students are walking around holding resumes and not looking for jobs, why are we here?

The other recruiters are the sullen, bored-looking dour recruiters who have plain booths, boring companies, redundant positions and they know it. No one stops by these booths (until the very end when students start getting desperate and start visiting every booth they haven’t gotten to yet) and the recruiters are usually so bored they pack up half an hour before then end of the career fair anyway.

The last type of recruiter is the confident and successful recruiter. This recruiter usually has a flashy booth display and represents a company that is doing well and offers good jobs. These people usually stand in their booth and look relaxed and friendly. They are welcoming but not desperate. These people are the competition.

We probably fall into this category, but so do about 30% of the other software companies present at the career fair. While we’re there we all perambulate around checking out the competition. Everyone does this. I make it a point to make note of every software recruiter, introduce myself and my company, and observe their displays and swag. It’s very competitive out there and it’s a lot less scary if my competition has a name and face.

It’s always fun about halfway through the career fair because the recruiters start to get restless and start mingling. It’s hard work standing there talking to people, shaking hands, and being professional and inviting so when we need a break we start chatting with one another. Often, this results in a kind of career incest wherein recruiters will start trying to recruit each other.

This is tacitly against the rules but it’s a pretty standard temptation at a career fair. All these companies, all these recruiters, all these open positions. You do the math. As you can see, there is a lot to watch at career fairs. Whether it’s the homeless guy walking around stuffing as many stress-squeezies as he can into his pockets, the anorexic blonde power-hungry recruiters salivating over the candy on your desk, or the completely hopeless freshman going from booth to booth and pretending to be professional while he’s sweating and fidgeting in his best suit, it’s almost always guaranteed that something interesting is happening.

Another guarantee of career fairs is that when I get home (always so late!) I will have no voice, sore feet, and a pounding headache. This time, however, I brought home presents so at least I have something besides resumes to show for my troubles. I brought Wes a pocket-sized-game-contraption from Microsoft, I brought Doc a bouncy-ball that lights up bright blue, and I brought myself a shirt that is packaged in plastic to look like a guitar (it’s from one of our competitors so I probably won’t be wearing it to work).

The problem I have is that when I see all these cool free things I have this irrational drive to claim one for myself. If it’s squishy, metal, a key-chain, a water bottle, a pen, a bouncy ball, a shirt, or a bag that says “Got Wood?” for some reason I feel like I need it. I always have to grab a hold of myself and remind myself that I don’t need that crap. I’ve noticed that the students who come to these things don’t have that sense yet. I bet their dorm rooms look pretty snazzy all kitted out in corporate kitsch.

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