Examining the flaws of career fairs

Photo courtesy of Allie Ghisson, Student Publications

While I have been going to Tech career fairs for about five years now, there is always a feeling of apprehension as I walk out to talk with recruiters. The career fair on Friday had more than the usual share of jitters. Impressive venue notwithstanding, there was a good reason to feel nervous. I am graduating soon, and I knew that this career fair could have a big impact on my future job prospects. After visiting several booths, I took a look around for any other companies that I wanted to check out. One in particular caught my eye. I had noticed them earlier in the day, but the line was so long that I had passed them over. Now, the line had dwindled to nothing, so I decided to try my luck. I chose one of the three available recruiters, walked over, and introduced myself. Immediately, the afternoon began to go terribly wrong. I proceeded to have possibly the worst interaction I have ever had with a recruiter, an interaction so bad that I will most likely never seek employment at that company again.

Whether or not he knew it, this guy gave the master class on how to drive potential talent away from a company. How could he have done a better job? Two things: encouragement and self-awareness. At all the other companies I visited, I never once felt like I was under attack for something I did not know. This recruiter started grilling me on C++, a language that I do not even have listed on my resume as one of my skills. He attempted to conduct a small technical interview, right in front of everyone at the career fair. Asking attacking questions that the student obviously does not know the answer to only serve to alienate them, not to encourage them. As far as self-awareness goes, this guy had little to none of it. 

Whether he was tired, in a bad mood or just plain mean, simply responding with lifeless “uh-huh”s is beyond unprofessional. Not only is it unprofessional, it is demeaning to the student. These are some of the best computer science students in the world, and they deserve more than to be treated like bores that will not go away. Instead of acting bored, recruiters should be curious about the student. Ask good questions, inquire about their background and why they care about computing. Make them feel like a person, not just another resume. In addition to verbal feedback, non-verbal cues are just as important to communicating interest in the student. Facial expressions can make or break a conversation. 

This recruiter had a smug smirk on pretty much the whole time that we were speaking. There was never any genuine interest or friendliness in his face. Humans are wired to respond to non-verbal cues, so making sure that you have a grip on your expressions and stance is key. In essence, the recruiter should make the student feel welcome, not like they have something to prove or like they are somehow inferior. Grilling me with technical questions before flexing how famous and successful the company was made me feel like I was not good enough. If I had been really looking forward to talking with this company, I would have been crushed to be treated this way. Making students feel like they do not belong in the industry does not help anyone. It hurts both parties by pushing talent away, and by making students less confident in their abilities. Even though it might not seem like it, recruiters have power to shape students’ careers. Do not waste that chance to have a positive impact!