Career Fairs: From Recruited to Recruiter

Why on earth would you wear that to career fairs?

I’m a recent graduate turned engineer turned writer (a story for another time) at Multiply. Recently, I stepped up to also play a part as company recruiter at a career fair. Having attended my last career fairs as a pleading student just 5-6 months prior, experiencing it as the antagonist was truly an eye-opener (tip 1: don’t consider your recruiter the enemy). Because really, it’s one thing to hear a horde of corporate reps talk about what they like to see from students, it’s another thing to experience it for yourself.

The responses used in this post are real-world replies I’ve received, somewhat changed in terms of wording but not meaning.


Conversations at career fairs


“Hi! I’m Ashwin and we’re from Multiply.”

“Hey, I’m Wally.” 😐


Wally seems to have run out of things beyond his name to add. He’s waiting for me to lead the charge. As a recruiter, I realize this will probably translate to how much initiative he takes in his job, too.

And then:

“Hi! I’m Chloe. I’m an electrical engineering student looking for a summer internship.” 😀 😀

Great smile, it’s infectious. Oh my.

Oh boy, when you’re a recruiter who has been standing there speaking to students for hours on end, it really is refreshing to have someone walk up to you with a million dollar smile. Sweet, something I was doing right as a student. It’s possible this only works on good-natured, cheerful recruiters like me. Man, I’m giving away free tips.


“Tell me about yourself. What do you do around here?”

“I major in So-and-so Engineering and.. Ummm… Minor in This-and-that, and I also… Ummm.. What was I going to say? Sorry..”

Come on kid, you can do this, don’t be nervous. I’m rooting for you.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really do want to see you succeed. Don’t be nervous. Breathe. Keep going. I want to see who you are behind that nervous mask. I understand now that unless the recruiter is looking exclusively for the Alphas of the world, some nervousness when talking to recruiters at career fairs isn’t a complete disaster.


“Have you heard of Multiply before?”

“I read your website just now but didn’t understand it.”

Are you friggin’ serious? You want me to hire you?

“Not really, but could you tell me more about what you guys do?”

Alright, sure.

When I open our website, I see a big spread of our primary product name, “Retire/Evolve”, and the subheading, “IT Asset Disposition”. The 2nd search result for that particular term brings up this website. Look, I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of us (we’re young and new), but doing research and doing a half-assed job at it leads me to believe that’s how you work. A student who has done awesome research before walking up to me really does set him/herself apart. Though as a student, I understand how difficult it is to conduct proper research on dozens of companies in multiple career fairs on top of every other responsibility you have in a regular week!


“What are you passionate about? What drives you?”

“I like to look at a problem and solve it.”

Oh come on… Such a generic answer.

“I like to look at a graphical interface, and figure out how people interact with it. I want to make it more easy and intuitive for them. I really think how people interact with technology is important.”


When I was a student, I tried to tailor my message to suit each company, in the hopes that would make me a more attractive student. I know now that I was WRONG! What a failure. Unless you’re a 100% Grade A Bullshitter, I’m going to see right through you. Just speak from the heart; if what you’re truly passionate about doesn’t match my company’s culture, then fine. You probably wouldn’t have enjoyed working here anyway. Do you really want to spend your life somewhere you can’t express your passions? Give an honest answer, and I’ll likely remember you at the end of the day when I look through my stack of resumes from all those career fairs.


“Do you have any questions?”

“Should I leave my resume with you?”

That’s the first thing you ask…? Isn’t leaving your resume the standard thing to do anyway?

“Do you have any advice on how I can build on these areas I’m weak in?”

Cha-ching! What an awesome question!

As a student, I thought that the ‘questions’ portion of the conversation was like desserts: Great to have, but not quite necessary (of course, some people consider desserts absolutely essential for every meal). Boy, wrong again! It’s most definitely an important component of the conversation, and it’s still a big window into your personality: What you consider important questions show where your priorities lie. That second question up above? It showed that the student was both genuinely interested in making himself a better candidate, and genuinely cared about improving his own skills. It was a superb question, and I was sure to let him know that.


And seriously, dress up. It’s a letdown and a disappointment to see students attending career fairs dressed in T-shirts, sweatpants, and/or sports shoes. If you can’t afford to dress up, try to borrow. Check out your careers office. Purdue’s CCO, for example, has the Career Closet – a service to let students borrow professional attire.

Of course, it’s worth mentioning that I didn’t find my current job (which I love and enjoy) at a career fair. So if you hate career fairs, fret not. Keep pushing yourself, keep exploring opportunities (even if at first they don’t seem related to what you want), and the right one will present itself. 😉