Career fairs

    I’m in Montréal for work. Could you really ask for more than a paid trip back to your home town? Then again, even if this week has been ok, February is about the worst of times to visit.
    I spent the last two days at my alma mater’s career fair. It’s been a great but sobering experience. I’ve always thought that getting to my first interview was a fluke; I submitted my resume the first year of my Master’s for an interview (for a full time position) 16 months later. However, thinking back, my resume even then had clear hints to the recruiters of my interests. Until now, I’d taken having a “here’s what I want to do” statement for granted. Wow… was I wrong.
    Here’s one conversation I had yesterday:

Candidate: Hi, I’d like to know more about the opportunities you have.
Me: We’re hiring for the entire company, what product or area would interest you?
C: I don’t know…
M: Well… let’s think about the products we make that you’d like to change, improve or even understand more about.  Which or our products do you really like using?
C: I’m not sure…
M: Ok, how do you use your computer? which of our products do you use often?
C: I send email a lot and I browse the web.
M: Anything you think is missing in your web browser?
C: I … I’ve never thought of that.
M: Mhhhh, about we look at this another way. What’s the software project you’re most proud of?
C: Oh, that’s easy. It’s got to be the second introductory programming class I did 2 year ago. I had to learn about recursion and I’m not that good at it.
M: Ok, that’s a good start. Do you have a resume I could look at?

    A few more details and a look at the resume confirmed everything I thought; and that was the end of it. What annoys me most is the fact that he hadn’t at least prepared for a few minutes or couldn’t improvise. I saw many other candidates like that.
    But there were some gems. Here’s one that got me and the other alumni really excited. On Thursday this young woman walked by and, almost naturally, did a double take. It seems the word hadn’t quite gotten around that there was a career fair. She listened in for a few minutes to some of the other questions before I eventually spotted her.


Me: You! I saw you! You made eye contact.
Candidate #2: oh… ok, (moves in closer). Hi! I’m —
Me: I’m M–, welcome to our booth.  I know you’ve got questions.
C#2: Sure (chirpy and giddy, big smile), what positions do you have for engineers?
Me: We’re hiring for the entire company, what product or area would interest you?
C2: Well, I’m not sure. If I was to pick an area I’d say I really think it’s how cool to see x in y. (I think her thing was computers in cars). Frankly I think I’m more interested about the type of job right now. I really enjoy researching projects, planning what we’re going to do, focusing the people on my team on the goal; stuff like that. The technology I haven’t settled on an area yet.
M: Well, first, we do have a team that works on the area you’re interested in but I hear you on the settling part. That’s common and we’ll help you figure out where you’d be most happy. What you also described though is a type of discipline that we have. We call them program managers. Here, let me show you what the official brochure’s description is…

    So for a few more minutes we talked about what being a PM is; what her background and experiences were; why not development as a career; whether she really wanted to work in automotive stuff; etc. Then I pulled out the real question, the one that’ll cut the conversation short if you don’t have the right answer.

M: Do you have a resume I could look at?
C2: No… I don’t (sheepish look). I didn’t know this was today. I feel really bad. Can I email it to you guys?
M: Actually, we’re here for the rest of the day as well as tomorrow. If I was you, I’d print out a copy and bring it over later. You’re always better off giving it to us directly.
C2: Oh (big smile), thank you. Yeah, I’ll absolutely do that. (Thinks for a second) Should I write a cover letter?
M: Doesn’t hurt.

    Then she left. I looked at my colleagues that had overheard the entire conversation and we were all kinda bummed. She was obviously smart, very passionate, great communicator, etc.
    She stopped by again today and got to talk with one of the PMs (whom I think remembered her from yesterday). She did great and her resume was put aside as a strong one that we should maybe call up for an interview. As the day wrapped up I tracked down her resume to look it over and read the additional notes that had been made.
    I noticed two really cool things immediately. She’s the only interviewee to have pulled anything like that of everyone we’ve seen and, as much as we can make it happen, she’ll get special treatment for doing so. Hopefully she’ll get to go straight to main campus for the real thing. A bit of hard work got her a few days’ all expenses paid trip and the opportunity to get a full interview loop. You can guess what she did, right?
    Her resume did have a cover letter. It was a surprisingly clean and good one. One paragraph on who she is, one on what she sees herself doing and how her experiences have lead her there and one on why she thinks she’s a good fit for our specific company. Yup… She tailored her cover letter specifically for us and made sure to demonstrate that she’d researched us enough to explain why her personality and interests would match our culture. The stuff wasn’t generic and showed she’d thought about what exactlt to say. Even if her resume as a 2nd year in college is limited, her ability to describe herself that way puts her ahead of her peers.
    But she did one more thing. She addressed the letter specifically to me. The full thing: Dear Mr. M– J–.
    I did not give her my business card. She also didn’t ask for it. Moreover, my handwriting sucks enough that my name card was unreadable by anyone out there. Actually, it’s bad enough that she couldn’t read my first name and, therefore, had to remember it from when I spoke it while shaking her hand. I know because she spelled it as I pronounce it in English which, of course, leads to spelling errors. But it was recognizable and she got the family name right.
    I know… it’s cheesy but I can’t stop feeling giddy about that candidate. It’s the same feeling I had when I was lecturing in school and I saw the students who really worked hard to excel pull off a very well deserved strong grade. It’s the feeling you get when you meet someone that has their act together: talent, skill, presentation, etc.

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