Guest post by Kushaan Shah
Over the course of a recruiting season, an employer may have close to five hundred conversations with prospective students at a given school. For those that work specifically in recruiting and attend multiple events, this number grows to a couple thousand. Every student has the same question — given the same opportunity as anyone else to chat with an employer, how do I stand out?
As someone who has spent multiple years on both the side of the student and the side of the employer, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the answer. As most are aware, there is no formula or guaranteed path to getting an interview or a job. For some, positive interactions with employers may not be enough to counteract a resume devoid of meaningful experience. For others, a robust resume might be offset by weak interactions with employers. With a future potentially contingent on a two minute interaction, it’s no wonder that recruiting season can be a stressful time for many students.
As part of a recruiting fair this past Friday with IBM, I noticed a few key observations that made some of the students I met with stand out:
- Avoid Questions That May Lead To a Website. As I mentioned earlier, most recruiters and practitioners have anywhere from five hundred to two thousand conversations at a school. Any conversation involving information that can be found specifically on a website is an easy way out for employers. Asking an employer about their perks or culture may not always lead to a dismissal — but it may lead you to a simple response: “Check out our website at www.company.com/perks to learn more about our perks”. While having one or two of these questions isn’t necessarily a conversation killer, a constant string of questions that can be found on a website may lead you the employer to believe you’ve done no research at all. If you have a question you’ve thought about in your head, try researching it on the company’s website very quickly. If you can’t find the answer, it’s likely good fodder to open up for a conversation.
- Avoid “Yes” or “No” Questions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten the following question at a recruiting fair: “Do you like IBM?” This has to be one of the strangest questions. Full disclosure — most people who are recruiting for their company like their company. Second, when you make it too easy for someone to simply respond with a “Yes” or “No”, it ruins the momentum of the conversation. Try questions like: What is your favorite part about IBM? Why did you join IBM? What is your favorite memory from your first year at IBM? Those are all questions that can lead to open-ended responses, stories, and anecdotes that will help you learn more about the company and appreciate what makes a company worth joining.
- Tie in Resume Highlights to Job Relevance. It’s easy for anyone to recite the finer points of their resume in an effort to maximize the short window of time they have with employers. Unfortunately, a lot of these finer points end up praising you without connecting your experience to the job at hand. While employers are looking for strong students, they also understand that not all experience is necessarily relevant to the roles they are recruiting for. You are completely in charge. Think about the job you’re applying for and how you can add value to that specific position. Don’t just recite resume experience to bloviate about your own skillset if you don’t even mention the name of the company. Try this: Next time you have a resume point you want to bring to a recruiter, complement it with “I know you mentioned your company’s best employees have x experience” or “I know x role at your company is specifically looking for x skillset”. You can tell them about your sweet internship at Google or your leadership position in a fraternity; adding this complement will suddenly propel the relevance of that resume point. Even a “Based on my experience, what role do you believe may be the best fit for me at IBM?” is a great question. Sometimes you don’t always know which role is best for you — asking this question allows the employer to provide their two cents and also helps you gauge fit for your own purposes.
- Talk to Multiple Representatives. No One Person Makes All Decisions. Unlike the final boss in Super Mario game, there is no one gatekeeper for all interviews and jobs at a company. At large companies, recruiting teams often deploy multiple representatives from different parts of a division to allow students to get multiple perspectives on day-to-day work. While it’s certainly helpful to talk to a recruiter, a partner, or the CEO of a company, they aren’t always the only people you need to impress. In fact, your best friend may be the average employee in the corner that nobody else is talking to. They will always be asked for input on recommending good colleagues and will certainly put in a good word. If there are multiple representatives there, learn what makes them different and where you might be a better fit.
- Be Enthusiastic. You’re nervous. Scared for your future. Tired from talking to companies on end. Mentally fried. We’ve all been there and it’s easy for us to empathize. We are human as well. Try your hardest not to let exhaustion slip into apathy or disinterest. Simple body language does wonders — a smile, handshake, eye contact and nods are all good ways to show employers you’re genuinely interested. If you are tired or sick, clear the air first so you have the full benefit of any doubt.
- Include Conversation Details in Follow-Up Emails. Follow-up emails to conversations can take a minute to draft but make a world of difference; I recently got a follow-up email from a girl who attended our fair on Friday, had asked a question about our new internship program and included every detail from the internship program in her follow-up email. I was genuinely impressed. While we don’t expect all students to have an eidetic memory, including details about a conversation is a good signaling asset. At best, it shows you’re excited. At worst, it shows you were listening. If what you discussed is especially unique, that email will lead the employer to remember your name vividly during deliberations. Don’t forget to end conversations by asking for a business card or potential contact information for follow-up information; it plants the seed for an inevitable follow-up email more than a simple Irish exit from the conversation.
Ultimately, it’s good to keep in mind that recruiting is not a contest to see who can get the most interviews; it’s a test to see which role will be a fit. Use the employees to your advantage, follow up appropriately, and make the most of your job search. Remember: You only have one first job.