In Part 1 of this series, I argued how important it is to use the Career Center. Here in Part 2, let’s discuss the role you play when looking for a new job.
Mistake Two: Playing the Role of College Senior.
Say you are going to a career fair with hundreds of other college seniors. Employers know this, and expect you to look and act like a college senior, right? Wrong. You need to act like an employee of the target company.
The most important question on a recruiter’s mind is one they won’t ask you: Can I see this person working for my company?
That can mean different things to different companies, but many share these basic, high-level criteria:
- Does the candidate look the part? The recruiter saw you waiting in line or walking up and already made a snap judgment before you even shook hands. Is that bad? No — it’s an opportunity. Do your best to look sharp and professional. I once overheard a candidate reassuring his buddy that, “Don’t worry, they know you’re a college student and can’t afford more than one pair of church shoes.” First, I chuckled, playing through a few “church shoe” memories in my head. Then I checked out his shoes: brown Dr. Martens. This is not a style column, and I’m not saying the candidate won’t land a job, but Dr. Martens don’t go with a business suit. Yes, it’s better to don casual footwear to a career fair than not go at all, but that gives the impression of doing the bare minimum to get the job done. Not a good first impression. If you want to get a leg up, you need a complete professional look. Others to avoid: wrinkled clothes (even allegedly non-iron dress shirts), scuffed shoes, novelty ties, overly trendy or youthful attire, tight clothing, and distracting jewelry. There’s no such thing as dressing too professional when searching for a job.
- Does the candidate talk like a professional? This is harder to practice, but still possible. Slow, articulate speech that isn’t littered with youthful-sounding unnecessary verbiage will get you far. Yes, most college seniors say “um” and “what have you” all the time. Don’t be like most college seniors. Talking like a professional also applies to knowing something about the industry and company you’re talking to. If you can have a professional conversation with the recruiter, and look the part, you’ll almost always be passed on to the next round.
- Is the candidate organized? Organized people seem headed toward success. Make sure you have many copies of your resume, and store them in something protective so they don’t spindle. Keep your business cards ready if you have them. (Aside: I appreciate it when college seniors have business cards. It’s a nice touch.) Have a few questions prepared so when you get to the recruiter, you’re ready to go. Anyone who stops by our booth and asks “So . . . what do you guys do, exactly?” does not get an interview.
- Is the candidate comfortable? This is tough, because the job search can be a very uncomfortable time. But you can practice meeting new people and asking them questions about their work. You can practice your handshake and keeping your voice steady. Uncomfortable candidates seem unprepared to join Corporate America and therefore don’t get asked back. One good tip is to do a few warm-ups first. Talk with some practice companies (those you’re not interested in working for) to warm up and get comfortable chatting with strangers. By the time you get to your top choices, you’ll be more relaxed.
All of these add up to playing the part of employee, and separating yourself from the other college seniors. Your goal is to look, talk, and act like you belong with the target company.