Now that I’m a working man I no longer attend career fairs with a portfolio full of copies of my CV, armed with questions and searching for technical challenges. I’ve had more than my fair share of experiences running through these events as a student, and also helping to organize them. I’ve seen what works for many companies, and what doesn’t. Now that it’s my turn to compete for attention with dozens of other companies, I’ve come up with this list of tips.
1. Bring an engineer
When I was looking for a job this way I had my own set of criteria to fill. Does the company work on interesting projects? Are the people friendly, motivated and intelligent? Would I learn something from an internship there? I was hungry for technical details of the products they were working on. I’d ask about programming languages, APIs, frameworks and problem solving. I needed to know that there were interesting technical challenges inherent in the products. That’s the kind of thing that would pique my curiosity and get me to apply.
Naturally, if there wasn’t an engineer or developer behind the career-fair booth I would quickly lose interest and move on over to another booth. This is why if you’re company is looking to recruit technical students, you should always have an engineer or developer behind the booth1. Technical-minded students will want to hear some technically interesting reasons to go work for you.
2. Make First Contact
When I was a student, attending career fairs was a ritual. I made it a point to go to every booth and ask all the companies present what they were about and what kind of job they were looking to fill. Being proactive at career fairs is what landed me internships despite the fact that I was never part of any co-op or placement program. It wasn’t tricky; all I had to do was walk up to the booth and say “Hi! What does your company do?”
The problem is that most students won’t do this. Most students will simply walk by a booth without saying anything or even taking a closer look (unless your swag is really, really compelling). This is why as a recruiter you have to be the one to make first contact. Those students that are meandering past your booth might be just the ones you’re looking for, but you’d never know it unless you stopped them and started telling them about all the cool stuff you do. Better yet…
3. Have a demo
The booths that attract the most attention at career fairs typically have some live demo available. Maybe even something interactive. When I attended the University of Ottawa High-Tech Career Fair last month, we brought a number of cameras as well as a couple of servers to show off our video surveillance software. I even brought a BlackBerry Bold and an iPhone to show off the Mobile project that my team and I have been working on for the past 10 months. You can bet a number of students were impressed when I showed them I could control the camera in my company’s parking lot — 200km away — using my phone.
Not only is it extremely rewarding to show off the project you’ve been working on, but it’s important to show the students that you have a tangible product. Having something that they can see and feel and interact with is a great way to pitch your company. You can say: “This is what we do. This is what you can do.”
4. Be Energetic
We have a corporate policy that forbids us to sit down behind the booth during a career fair. We’re not allowed to look bored. If you look bored, people will think your company is boring. Even if you’re tired and your feet hurt, you need attack recruitment with the same drive and energy that you apply to the work you’re really passionate about.2
Stay on your feet, and speak passionately and energetically with every student that walks by. Be excited about what you’re telling them (not too excited). Excitement and enthusiasm will make potential candidates excited, too.
5. Avoid Corporate Stock Photos
You know what I’m talking about. Those generic images of the every-company. Generic-looking, smiling business people in suits sitting around an all-white conference table. Pictures of random cityscapes that could be anywhere. I’m talking about the kind of stuff that appears when you do a Google Image Search for “corporate”. This image might be attractive to your enterprise clients, but it’s not attractive to students. Especially not technical students.
Stock photos obscure the message of what your company actually does. Without that message, students will just walk by your booth as if it’s invisible. There’s nothing distinctive that shouts “You want to work here!!”. If you don’t have a demo to _show anyone what you do then you’re really screwed. Instead of showing generic stock photos, you should show pictures of what your company actually looks like, or some photos of your products being used in the field. You want people to see your company culture for what it is, and you should be proud to show it off to a potential new recruit!3