In case you didn’t see the countless posters and Facebook and Twitter posts, the Fall Job & Internship Fair was held at UWGB last week on September 28th. Now, being a first-year student, I really didn’t know what it was all about. The professionals in the Career Services office were tangibly excited, but the students on the other hand, were terrified. The idea of walking into a room full of potential employers was almost as scary as meeting up with a band of monsters. But if there is one thing I learned from watching Scooby Doo it’s that there is always a person behind that mask. So I set out for the Job & Internship Fair with one goal in mind: to solve the mystery of the Job Fair Scare!
Why are students so intimidated when it comes to interviewing? Is it the fear of answering a question wrong? Of being ill-prepared? These are the questions I asked myself as I began to investigate the topic. The Career Services website had tons (literally, TONS!) of advice on what to wear, how to sell yourself, and so many other ways to be prepared for the Job Fair, but students were still nervous. The nerves were even starting to get to me! At 10:30 AM, I arrived at the Job Fair wearing my best business attire and a brave face (I thought it best to skip the bell-bottoms and ascot). Not surprisingly, there were no cobwebs, no eerie fog, and NO masked ghouls anywhere. It didn’t seem like this was going to be as eventful as anything Scooby and the gang encountered, but the mystery was still unfolding…
With my name tag on, I decided to begin my investigation with a little observation. The Fair was already in full swing: smartly dressed students were everywhere (obviously they checked out Career Services’ “Dress for Success” tips!). And as I watched the many tentative (and some bolder) students work up the courage to approach the company reps, I wondered, “What are they afraid of?” “It’s so nerve-wracking,” one girl said. “They just seem so intimidating.” The employers at every single booth were standing, smiling, and practically begging to be approached. Their tables held enticing goodies like candy, snacks, pencils, pens and other free stuff; anything they thought would lure in students. It was obvious that they wanted to be engaged, but they were waiting for students to make the first move. When a student approached, the interactions always started the same way: a firm handshake, the exchange of names and the four-word phrase that can make or break you in any job interview—“Tell me about yourself.” Jinkies! My first clue! It was time to dig deeper.
I wanted to get some insight from employers, so I approached a table for WS Packaging Group, Inc. I spoke with a representative who told me what she thought the most important thing to do before an interview was. “I feel that when we read resumes, applicants are not looking at the job description and the qualifications.” She felt it was extremely important to research the position and its requirements before you apply. Don’t apply for a science-related position if you are an English major that hated your science classes. A representative from the Wisconsin State Government expressed concern that students and graduates looking for jobs “think they can jump right into an advising position.” Students seem to be so confident in their abilities and eager to climb the career ladder that they forget they do have to start on the bottom rung. She said they must remember that no matter how smart they are, going from graduation to management is simply not (or at least very rarely) going to happen. When I asked employers about skills their company was looking for in a potential employee the responses were pretty much what you would expect: communication and writing skills, work ethic, leadership, and education among the most common. I realize that many students may think that these skills are obvious. They already know they must possess the vast majority if they even want to be considered for a job. That’s when I knew I had found my second clue.
I stumbled upon my third clue in a much more subtle way. There is no doubt that the company representatives are all very good at their jobs and that they know what they are doing, so it’s easy to see why students are intimidated at the thought of speaking to these employers. But who would be surprised to know that the employers were just as nervous? It’s true! When I first approached a booth, I would introduce myself, telling them I was an intern with UWGB Career Services, and ask if they would mind answering a few questions. Almost immediately, there was a change. Their eyes widened a little, smiles faltered for just a split-second, and I knew right then that I had made a breakthrough. I had definitely caught them off guard: most of the representatives came to the Job & Internship Fair to interview students, but in an ironic turn of events, they found themselves in the middle of an interview. They answered my questions and were very helpful, but I could tell that it was quite unexpected.
At that point I had gathered enough information. I couldn’t help feeling a little like Velma as I went through my list of clues, but I was definitely ready to solve the Job Fair Scare. First of all, I wondered, why do employers ask such a broad question to start the interview? Such openness makes some students very nervous. They aren’t sure exactly what to say, but above all, they want to avoid rambling. Employers do this because they want to know about you. They generally look for the student to speak first at a job fair because their main objective is to get an idea of whether or not you would be right for their company. The representative is never going to try to embarrass you or make you look stupid. Just be confident and professional, but most of all, be you.
Secondly, it is one thing to have the skills employers are looking for, but it is entirely another to actually know what to do with those skills. A professor in one of my classes once said, “Interviewers are really thinking, ‘I know you have the skills. So what? How is it going to help my company?’” I think this is a really important question that students should ask themselves as they prepare for a job fair or interview. If you can tell employers a specific example of how you can help their company, it is a much more impressive answer and will definitely help you stand out.
Finally, the third, and I feel most important thing I learned at the Job and Internship Fair, is that everyone is nervous about being interviewed! Even professionals that are very knowledgeable about their field and position are susceptible to the butterflies and stutters that come with this natural fear of speaking publically. It’s important for you as a future job applicant to realize that it is natural to feel a bit on edge—everybody does! No matter if you’re eighteen, twenty-two, or forty-three, the nerves get to us all. This doesn’t mean we have to let it get the best of us, and miss important opportunities: no, it just means that we can recognize the nervousness and easily learn to push it aside.
So, jinkies, that’s that! Mystery solved. There were no ghosts, goblins, or monsters running booths at the Job and Internship Fair; just normal professional people with the same emotions as students. So now that all of your fears are put to rest, start your own job search today! Go to http://www.uwgb.edu/careers/skills/job-search.asp to get started!