Tech & Work

More 'real' truths about tech job fairs

Are job fairs helpful or harmful for tech pros looking to find new employment? There seems to be little agreement, even among experts. Take a peek at this refutation of one expert's opinion by another and chime in with your thoughts.

Opinions differ on the value of job fairs for tech pros, and while I agree with many of the points made in Terryn Barill's recent column, I have issues with some of the advice she provides. While I don't believe that job fairs themselves will ruin your career, I do think they can divert you from focusing on more intelligent means of searching for employment. Further, I believe that attending these "meat markets" can do more harm than good.

I've taken ten myths perpetuated by Barrill's column and provided the truth—as I see it—along with suggestions that I hope will help you in your search for a new job.

Second of two parts
The first five myths were discussed in last week's article. This installment will cover the remaining five myths.

Myth: Eliminate the "no's" from the list of potential companies
Myth: "For both sides of the table, a 'no' decision can come a lot faster than a 'yes,' so if you can eliminate a bunch of potential companies, then you can focus on the rest."

Truth: You don't have to go to a job fair to eliminate most companies on the planet as potential employers. People have a nasty habit of chasing jobs "just because they're there." The first to say "no" should be you.

Suggestion: Before you pursue a job or company, make sure your reasons are sound. Do your homework and due diligence. Talk to people who work there and to people who have business with the company. That's the only way to really understand a company and decide whether it's for you. As a bonus, you will have developed contacts at the company. At that point, you don't need job fairs, do you? You're the guy sitting in the manager's office while your competitors are having their 60-second handshake evaluated for adequate "squeeze."

Myth: A handshake pitch communicates who you are
Myth: "A handshake pitch is a 30 to 60 second introduction that tells a recruiter who you are and what you're looking for."

Truth: Recruiters at job fairs don't care what you're looking for. They know only what they are looking for—buzzwords. The concept of the handshake pitch, or elevator pitch, is a cheap reworking of the sales pitch. No one buys a $50,000 product—you—based on a 60-second pitch. If you believe that 60 seconds with a clerk is going to help your career, you're clueless about real professional relationships.

Suggestion: Reveal who you are and what you're looking for only when you have the other person's full attention. Barrill tells the story of one job fair attendee who got hired while talking to a recruiter casually on the job fair lunch line. Not a bad idea. Maybe that's the only place to hang out at job fairs, where people have time to talk and listen.

Myth: Point out key areas in your resume
Myth: "Your strategy should be to quickly point them to the key areas in your resume that reflect their needs."

Truth: Once again, this is false (though conventional) logic being presented as the underpinnings of a solid job search strategy. Look at the moorings of this approach. There is nothing to hold on to. You're visiting 300 companies. You need to show how your resume addresses their needs. The trouble is that you don't know their needs. How can you possibly know the needs of 300 companies and produce a resume that will address all of them? This is the dangerous kind of false logic that sinks job hunters before they set sail on a job search. The same logic leads companies to hire the wrong people. I am convinced that most layoffs are the end result of bad hires made by shooting at fish in a barrel.

There are not 300 companies or jobs out there for you. There is a small handful. You must prepare to address the needs of that handful—and it will take you days to prepare for each.

Suggestion: If you aren't able and willing to prepare a brief business plan to show a specific employer how you will do a job in a way that contributes profit to his bottom line, you have no business talking to him about "his needs." Accept that challenge, and you won't have time for job fairs.

Myth: Passing out lots of resumes won't get you better results
Myth: "…papering the hall with your resume won't get you better results"

Truth: Though I don't advocate this any more than I advocate job fairs, I think it will.

Suggestion: If you're going to a job fair because of the raw numbers of contacts—any contacts—you can make, then admit you're playing the numbers, and distribute all the resumes you can. There is no other value to the venue than playing the numbers, so do it well. The truth is that job fairs cannot be finessed. They are crude, rude mosh pits.

Myth: You never know who you'll meet
Myth: "You never know who you'll meet."

Truth: My point exactly. Walking blind on the job hunt is like not job hunting at all. Random encounters with people you don't know who don't know you and who have no time to talk is largely a waste of time. That's common sense. Draping it with the banner of a job fair doesn't turn a meat market into a fine restaurant where smart people meet to do deals.

Suggestion: To make new professional friends, go to a professional event. Take a training class where people from your target company get trained. Read the trade publications they read, find articles about their companies, note names of people from your target company, and drop a note or call them. Does that seem awkward? Is it less awkward to talk to a recruiter at a job fair who knows nothing about your field of work, but who holds your fate in her hands?

Job fairs are "losers" for job seekers and employers
Barrill offers some thoughtful tips throughout her article. But like most job hunters, she falls prey to the illogic of job fairs and tries to make the best of an ineffective job-hunting venue. Her closing tale of caution is a great closing for this column, too:

"But don't be so organized that you treat the recruiters like pieces of meat; they can dish it, but they can't take it. One candidate made a point of getting the recruiter's business card, stapling it to a piece of notepaper, and then writing additional notes next to the card. Sounds great, until you realize what the recruiter saw: a line of business cards stapled down the side of the paper, and his was just the next one in the stack. The candidate never made it to the next interview."

This was a smart candidate whose only mistake was going to a job fair to begin with. I applaud his or her organization skills. Of course, the recruiter in question was a presumptuous dope who should be summarily fired. But before you assume that the loser here is the job hunter, think again. Many talented, worthy job hunters pass through job fairs. Naïve, inexperienced, arrogant recruiters pass judgment on them, often based on nothing more than a trivial observation. When that happens, the employer loses. Think of all the talent that slips through the hands of employers at job fairs. Think of the talent that gets blackballed in HR databases. Think.

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