Stand Out and Speak Up at Job Fairs

I’ve been on both sides of the table at college job fairs. This past week I was on the employer side.

There were many impressive resumes, but what my colleagues and I took the most note of was how people presented themselves, especially whether or not they were able to carry on interesting conversations. With hundreds of applicants, it seems like students have a particularly tough task to differentiate themselves. However, from our experience, that’s just not true.

Many students make it too easy to overlook them or discount their abilities. If they didn’t have resumes punctuated with grammatical and stylistic errors, they stuck to nonversations, deeming them entirely unmemorable. There were few standout candidates and really all it took was the ability to smile and carry on an interesting and intelligent conversation. After that, we scanned their resumes for any major no-no’s, and if there were no red flags, they made the A list. Done.

Many students are unsure of how to engage with working professionals:

  • Should I call her by her first name?
  • Can I discuss anything not directly related to work or school?
  • Where do I put my hands?
  • If it’s a networking event at a bar or restaurant, can I have a drink…you know, like a drink-drink?
  • What if I don’t know the answer to their question?
  • What if there’s an awkward silence?

Here’s the secret: the people interviewing you will be just as awkward and nervous as you are.

When people approached us with obvious terror, it made us feel awkward and nervous. We didn’t quite know what to say, how to act,  how to stand, and so on. When, on the other hand, people approached us with warm confidence, we ended up chatting happily with them for quite a while, getting to know them and learning about their work experience as well as their personal interests. These are the kinds of people we want to work with.

To address some of the questions above, here’s my take:

  • Using people’s first name is standard in the workforce, but it does depend on the industry a bit. The banking industry can be a bit more formal, for instance. If you’re not sure, simply ask, “May I call you John?”
  • Topics of discussion are definitely not limited to work and school, however, steer clear of topics that are too personal or that tend to be polarizing (politics, religion, etc.)
  • Avoid crossing your arms. Try clasping your hands in front of you. If that feels awkward, carry something with you (like a folder or portfolio) to solve this problem.
  • Best not to drink. You don’t need it that bad. This is just my personal advice. You never know what your interviewer really thinks about it. Don’t give him or her an excuse to not take you seriously.
  • If you don’t know the answer, don’t make anything up. It’s ok not to know. Ask questions about what you don’t know so that you can get the answer. If it requires more research, take notes so that you can look it up later. This gives you a good talking point for a follow-up e-mail.
  • Awkward silences. Yikes. Doing your research ahead of time will help with this. Have an understanding of what the company does before you go to the interview or networking event. Have a list of questions you’d like to ask. Have a few comments about work they’ve done. Don’t be afraid to give constructive criticism and critiques.

You’ve heard this before, but just be yourself.


Morgan is the social media strategist at Media Two, an interactive advertising agency in downtown Raleigh. In her role at Media Two, Morgan Siem helps businesses, both B2B and B2C to leverage social media channels to meet their business goals. Morgan has worked with clients such as Microsoft Office for Mac Business Unit, Entertainment Publications, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Kindermusik International and Special Olympics of North Carolina. Morgan graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May of 2009 with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and a minor in Spanish. Follow her on Twitter.

Related posts:

  1. Explore Careers by Attending Campus Career Fairs
  2. Career Fairs 101
  3. Four Essential Job and Internship Resolutions for 2012

One Response to “Stand Out and Speak Up at Job Fairs”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Heather R. Huhman, LLC and Operation Workforce, Mandy Boddy. Mandy Boddy said: RT @heatherhuhman: Student branding: Stand Out and Speak Up at Job Fairs [...]

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