As a follow up to my previous blog, as well as another source to help students find career success, I decided to discover my inner Sherlock Holmes, and investigate what it really is that employers are looking for in students and future employees. My hope was to bridge the gap between student understanding and employer expectation. As I pondered ideas for my research, I thought, what better place to begin my research than the 2010 Fall Job & Internship Fair?? The fair was held last Wednesday September 29, 2010.
The day started great, at 9 am there were students standing outside ready and waiting, and by 10 am students were filtering in steadily, most dressed appropriately, most with resume in hand, and many looking like they were ready to rock, but there was a tension in the air, an awkwardness that filled the space and you could see it on their faces. Employers were standing at their booths, conversing quietly with one another. Students were standing in front of the door, frantically looking at their notes. I could tell the nerves were starting to kick in. I quietly wondered how the day would turn out and what I was going to learn.
I jumped right in and spoke with students who confirmed my observations—they were nervous. They were nervous about the initial contact and greeting with employers. Many students voiced concern of the “awkwardness” walking up to a potential employer, as well as the oddity of the situation as a whole: employers lined up ready and waiting to talk to you—or as many students feared, embarrass you. Students also expressed their concerns of not being prepared, forgetting what they had intended to say and stumbling over their words. As I watched further, by 10:30 students were actively participating in the job fair atmosphere. I observed extremely positive interaction, as well as some not-so-positive. It was time to get down and dirty, and uncover what it really was that employers wanted to see from students.
I began my interviews with Cherney Microbiological Services, LTD. In speaking with the representatives of this company I found that many of the qualities and requirements that they were in search of were the same as those previously mentioned in our blog. They wanted a student who was prepared and outgoing, who dressed appropriately, etc… but there were some things that caught my attention. “One of the most important things to us is that the student portrays dependability, because after all if we hire them, we want to have confidence in their ability to be depended on,” said one representative. Other traits that Cherney listed as desirable were a strong work ethic, ability to adapt to changes, and “spunk”. “Personality is key,” added another rep.
I continued to ask about what it was that students were doing wrong or quite possibly not understanding. The answers I received were interesting, yet a lot like what I had heard before. As one representative stated, “Come with questions. Do your research, and most of all be yourself and be confident. It’s all about how you sell yourself.”
As I moved from one employer to the next it became apparent that what I was finding was significant information. I was seeing first-hand the severity of the gap between student and employer. I spoke next with a representative from the YMCA. She told me specifically she was looking for a person with passion and a heart for the position they were seeking. She expressed that too often students apply for a “job” for the sake of having a job, but never stop to think whether or not they would actually care for the position. She stated “having presence” as something that was crucial when seeking employment. She also mentioned dressing for the position you are seeking as an important quality.
I continued to observe the trials of students roaming the job fair—some extremely successful, others still struggling. I decided to speak with one last employer. This time I went for the big dog: Integrys. Within minutes of introducing myself and starting my interview, I could tell that these guys were tough. They have intense requirements for their student employees, including a specific GPA and experience. They also have high expectations in regard to “presence” while speaking with them. They expect confidence and initiation from the student as well as good communication skills and maturity. Appropriate dress, resume, research, and questions for the employer were also things of importance to Integrys representatives. One rep told me, “It may be uncomfortable and you may not look cool, but who is going to look cool when they’ve got the job?” She continued to state, “If you want an interview, you need to come in with your game face on.”
I left the job fair thinking about what the last employer had said. I began to realize the gap between students and employers at job fairs and in the working-world in general could be bridged by one thing: initiative. If students take the time to do their research and be prepared, that’s initiative. When students take initiative, they become more confident in themselves and their preparedness. When a student is confident and prepared, employers take notice, and that’s exactly what anyone seeking employment wants. I learned through this experience that employers at the job fair aren’t scary people standing behind a table waiting to embarrass you; they want to help you—heck they even want to hire you, so take some initiative. Be confident and watch them take note of you!